Sunday, November 24, 2013

Brandon Isaacson on Last Vegas (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 11/1/2013.

Last Vegas is a hard movie to write about. I hated the first third of the film, which is filled with classic Las Vegas “musts.” We dig slightly below the surface on issues held by aging men, while watching women be shown for sexual appeal. The major manifestation of this is when four men judge a bikini contest. Need I say more?

However, while this problem does stay subtly in the background for most of the film, it tries to become something more. Issues like how to treat sick older family members, or how to overcome the sadness of losing one’s spouse, are explored. It doesn’t do a bad job, but it’s also nowhere near as successful as many films have been before and will be after.

I should also note that there is one woman who is not there for sexiness, but she is there sort of as a plot point. Last Vegas will definitely not pass the Bechdel Test, as not only is she the only notable female character, but her purpose is to be the object of two male friends’ desires. This really at the heart of the sour taste Last Vegas left in my mouth. Despite some attempts to deal with actual issues, it still relies on morally dubious mainstream conventions that ultimately subvert some of the moral points made by the end of the film (which I won’t spoil). This "fun" movie left me feeling quite sad and frustrated, even though it wasn't that bad.

Grade: C+

Brandon Isaacson and Mary Tobin discuss 12 Years a Slave (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 10/25/2013.

Mary: My initial reaction: an absolutely fantastic film. The visuals were lingering but crisp, with several particularly powerful shots displaying unimaginable suffering in the foreground with innocent children playing in the background. The jarring spectrum of human emotion encapsulated in a single scene was amazing.

Brandon: I want to love 12 Years a Slave like everyone else, but I don't. The problem for me is that it feels like a stage play. It's like watching a handful of famous actors play roles, but PLAY THEM, not disappear into them. Ejiofor seems like he's acting in a play, as highlighted in the trailer by the line 

Mary: That did seem a little odd to me. They seemed to be there to be famous, not be there to aid in the film’s overall effect.

Brandon: It makes it hard for me to be engaged in—the costumes and makeup, like Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti, feel like play costumes and makeup (good enough to be seen from a distance, not with a camera up close). There's nothing wrong with it. But why do we need famous people? It doesn't feel real. Did it feel real to you? 

Mary: The fact that the film was based on a real story—that made it so much more real for me. I think being rooted in a real story helps films become more realistic, and this was based on a true story so that felt more real because it wasn’t simply trying to portray ‘slavery.’

Brandon: This did feel like a more realistic portrayal of slavery, but I take issue with rewarding it for being “based on truth." It's a sketch of truth, but we can't really understand the reality of the truth. It's based on truth, but always going to be distant from reality. Just look at The Social Network. Because it is that time period, we know how far it is from the truth. But with films like 12 Years, we just think, oh this is the reality. You can't accept that or fall into that trap.

Mary: If your qualm with historical films is that they're not close to reality, isn't a requirement of a film like this that it's based on the closest version of the truth we have?

Brandon: No, my qualm is with rewarding films for being "true" when that's often a misleading notion. But that's the phenomenon. "This one is based on truth so I should take it more seriously" is a common thing. As a method of making the character more relate-able, they center the story on someone who was free and is then enslaved. Which is fine in general, but it's something that makes these Schindler's List comparisons weird. I don't feel this is ‘the slavery movie.’ His experience is grounded in a free man, being enslaved, and waiting for his opportunity to get out of the situation. It almost then feels like a nightmare –with lines like, "I will survive. I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy till freedom is opportune."
 A nightmare is a horrible experience that you know will end. There's a sense that this is temporary, which is a problem, since the misery of enslavement has a lot to do with the permanence of it. 

Mary: So what are your thoughts overall?

Brandon: None of it really sticks in my mind, I really just don't connect with the way McQueen looks at things, it doesn't make me feel anything. However, I’m reacting to the A+ praise it’s receiving. To some extent I’m slanting more negative because I’m not as enthusiastic. I think it’s an excellent film, but requires more criticism than some are giving it.

I found several images striking, especially a few beautiful shots of what I believe were weeping willows—many more showing the internal struggle of various characters (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cumberbatch, etc) without forcing too much dialogue. I can see why you take issue with this being called ‘the slavery movie,’ but I didn’t look at it that way. I think it was a compelling, engaging, beautifully shot portrayal of what one man endured during a time when his rights were nonexistent.

Brandon: B+/A-
Mary:       A

Brandon Isaacson on I Used to Be Darker (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 10/18/2013.

Matt Porterfield films aren’t riveting Hollywood-style crowd pleasers. They're actually the opposite; very muted and hard to interact with initially, but stick strongly.

I blindly bought Porterfield’s Putty Hill because of Richard Brody's high praise. He wrote that Putty Hill “…digs deep beneath the surface of the quiet doings of everyday people…Throughout this wondrous movie, visual experience itself conveys the muted joy of living despite unfathomable reaches of pain.” After seeing the film, I completely agreed with Brody. I feel like I know that Baltimore town.

Two years later, Porterfield has followed up with I Used to Be Darker. Like with Putty Hill, I needed more time to process I Used to Be Darker. It’s a great example of a film that feelslived in. I’m comfortable with these characters, I feel like I could go to a coffee shop with them and catch up on what we’ve missed since we last spoke. Part of the reason for this is elements of the setting are familiar. I identify with going to an indie show, watching friends jam, playing football with friends. More importantly, because Porterfield’s camera is observational, watching everyone but not getting involved.

Reflecting on the film, Porterfield made the following statement:

At its core, I Used To Be Darker is a story about family: what pushes us away from our own, what draws us back, how we negotiate new terms of engagement as we carve our own space in the world. And it’s a story about home, based on the belief that you can too go home again, but it always involves building something new.
I know I have a connection with Porterfield's world, but the feelings are buried deeper than I can articulate at this point. I need weeks or months to let them rise to the surface. A great example is the scene depicted in the teaser trailer. Bill plays the guitar, filled with melancholy, and then when he finishes the song, he smashes it. There’s something entrancing about this. The melancholy of the home. Bill’s despondency. The American flag. This moment illustrates Porterfield’s skill, crafting an image that creates a visceral response guiding you to a cultural reflection.

Something about Porterfield feels deeply American. It reminds me of the America seen in films like David Gordon Green’s George Washington. It feels true to me. An element of this is the use of music, as the film is intermittently filled with songs from either bands or individuals on their acoustic guitar. This idea of a person, alone, expressing themselves with an acoustic guitar evokes our individualism and the loneliness that often brings.

All the songs are engaging, and some are absolutely stunning. The scene that ends the film and plays over the credits, which I won’t spoil, is sublime. A woman and her guitar. It will stick with me for a long time. I’ll let you know when I figure out why.

Grade: A-

Brandon Isaacson on God Loves Uganda (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 10/11/2013. 

God Loves Uganda is a traditional, “teach you about a political situation” documentary. It opens with the following quote:

“I love Uganda, it’s a very loving country, caring country, but something frightening is happening that has potential to destroy Uganda. And it is coming from the outside.”

This narration is actually over images of nature and playing children. My initial reaction was, “uh oh,” am I running into another disappointing lecture, with condescending bias and little hope to change anyone's mind (like recent film Inequality for All)? The answer is no, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams has created a very good film. God Loves Uganda has a perspective, but it’s measured and fair in its representation.

The film is about the American evangelical campaign to bring the Christian Right’s values to Africa, and especially Uganda. Dr. Scott Lively leads this campaign. To give you an idea of what kind of person we’re dealing with, I’d guess that far right American conservatives would think Dr. Lively is too far right. He actually says in a clip in the documentary that the homosexuals were behind the Holocaust. Seriously.

He’s the major force behind the anti-gay legislation in Uganda, which suggests the death penalty for repeat offenses of homosexuality. Now you know what level of intolerance and lack of compassion we’re dealing with.

The film dissects different views of this issue, looking at the involvement of American evangelical leaders in Uganda (in the form of leaders and common missionaries), an exiled African studying the issue from Boston, an LGBT activist in Uganda who won the 2012 Clinton Global Citizen Award, and an anti-gay Ugandan pastor.

The film quietly but effectively exposes you to these American and Ugandan leaders as well as those who follow them. While scary and sad to witness people succeeding at preaching hateful ideas to Ugandans, such an occurrence is important to be aware of. I greatly appreciate that Roger Ross Williams doesn’t tell me what to think about the various scenes portrayed, though he doesn’t have to -- the bone-chilling reality is clear.

God Loves Uganda premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Grade: A-

Brandon Isaacson on Laurence Anyways (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 10/7/2013.

New on Blu-ray and DVD 10/8 is Laurence Anyways, the brilliant new film from Xavier Dolan (Heartbeats). It is currently available on Cable VOD and will come to online VOD later in the year.

A selection of the opening lines of Laurence Anyways reads like this:

“What are you looking for, Laurence Alia?

I’m looking for a person who understands my language and speaks it. A person who, without being a pariah, will question not only the rights and the value of the marginalized, but also those of the people who claim to be normal.”

Dolan’s ambitious third feature stumbles, like its main character, through Laurence's transformation from man to woman. It’s messy and overlong but much more brave and worthwhile than most films you’ll see this year.

In French Canada during the late 1980s, Laurence and Frederique (Fred) fall for one another. However after a period of dating, Laurence tells her that he wants to become woman. Their decade long struggle ensues.

When Laurence tells her of his ambivalence towards his gender, she says, “Everything I love about you, you hate.” They are each faced with the deep pain of this predicament. He, after being vulnerable about his identity, is rejected by the woman he loves. She is humiliated by his violation of her vulnerable love for him. It’s easier to sympathize with Laurence, but it should be noted that Fred is being told by the person she loves, that he does not love that part of himself that she is deeply attached to. I feel both of their immense pain.

I could never tell exactly what Fred is thinking. She either loves Laurence, male or female, and isn’t brave enough to face society's rejection of him, or she doesn’t love Laurence but can’t face herself for rejecting him based on his new gender preference.

Early on, Fred tells her sister: “Our generation can take this. We’re ready for it”

Later in the film, we discover how unready she was. She flips out and screams at the waitress in a crowded restaurant, upset by the waitress’ prying questions about Laurence. Afterwards, she says to Laurence while running away from him, “Between you and me, who really needs to be fixed?” The answer to this question is clear, despite Fred’s assertion. Laurence knows her own identity, but Fred is lost.

Laurence Anyways won Best Actress in the Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, as well as Best Canadian Feature at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Aspects of it will frustrate you, like the overwhelming length and prevalence of artsy shots that sometimes feel forced. That may matter to you during the film and right after, but not next week. Next week you’ll remember the humanity, the struggle we all face between the aspects of us that make us normal and those that push us into the margins, and that’s what really matters.

Grade: A-

Brandon Isaacson on Mother of George (re-post from

Originally appeared on, 10/4/2013.

Mother of George explores a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, struggling to conceive a child. Dosunmu (Restless City) shows the classic, but still intriguing tension between traditional roots and contemporary culture, in this case being Nigerian roots and Brooklyn culture. At a deeper level, as Dosunmu puts it, Mother of George is about “…love, innocence, trust, tradition, custom, history.”

The heart of conflict in the film centers on the couple’s inability to conceive, since using modern doctors violates tradition. The husband is unwilling to meet with a doctor to be tested for fertility. As usual, the woman is held responsible for all problems, including ones she can’t control. Powered by love, she must find a solution. Difficult decisions and tense situations ensue.

The film won the Best Cinematography prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Dosunmu is not interested in Hollywood-style elevated realities. He lets the camera watch characters sit with the decisions they’ve made and the ones they’re about to make. I love this style, of letting people simply exist. While a very different film, I praised other Sundance dramatic feature Afternoon Delight for the same strength earlier this year. Dosunmu really cares about his characters, you can sense it from the images and camera movement.

I respect Mother of George for the issues it tackles and the artistry it employs, but I could not connect. It’s definitely a film that I had to wade through, but it was worth the effort.

Grade: B

Brandon Isaacson on Inequality for All (re-post from

This originally appeared on, 9/26/2013.

Inequality for All, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, looks at economic inequality across US history. For better or worse, it’s a liberal lecture. It’s a very good lecture, but great documentaries aren’t lectures.

The film explores the ideas of Robert Reich, a best-selling author who teaches public and economic policy at top institutions, and served three presidential administrations including Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. A surprising amount of the movie is literally Reich teaching at UC Berkeley.

The film has very good information and Reich is very intelligent. However, it wastes its opportunity to communicate that by building to classic liberal condescension. What is the point? Why are they just preaching to the choir? Rally the liberal troops? If they really wanted to start a dialogue, they wouldn’t be doing a limited release either. Why no VOD? Why not TV?

I’m frustrated and disappointed. There is more we can be doing to start a dialogue about these issues. Why waste Reich's intelligence on people who agree with him? Why be condescending to people who could learn from him? I hope Inequality for All gets to people that can learn from it (it won’t).

Grade: B/B-

Brandon on Telluride: Chapter 3, the last five films (re-post from

This originally appeared on, 9/19/2013.

I was fortunate to attend the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium this year, seeing fifteen films. This "Chapter" has my last set of film reviews.
Blue is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche

Abdellatif Kechiche, Adele Exarchopouolos and Lea Seydoux have made a remarkable film, worthy of all the praise it has received, including the Palme d’or at Cannes. Blue is romantic and real, pulsing with uncomfortable sincerity. Surely you’ve heard about its prominent lesbian sexuality, which is not gratuitous or irresponsible. As some of my fellow students pointed out, the film’s central relationship is primarily driven by sexuality, and thus, extended sex scenes are a necessity.

Kechiche is by no means trying to exploit these two girls. It’s not a coincidence that we see Adele eating spaghetti casually like when no one is watching. The film doesn’t just focus on Adele in the bedroom, but rather as a lost high school student discovering her identity, and not just her sexual identity.

This is the kind of film that I forget is a movie, I feel like a voyeur watching someone’s real life. I’m still somewhat shocked at the idea that Adele and Lea aren’t actually just playing themselves, it’s that convincing. I wish I had more to say, but this is another case of when I was beaten down by the wear of the festival (altitude sickness, lack of sleep, 3-hour movie that ran until 1am).

 Grade: A

12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen

Sorry world, I didn’t love 12 Years a Slave. I’ve always had a removed appreciation for McQueen's films. I like them, but from a distance. This experience was no different.

I couldn’t immerse myself in Northup’s situation, which is really the only problem I have. Ejiofor, Nyong’o, and Fassbender are masterful in their performances. The story hits many of the important beats, with the patience and consideration they deserve. Still though, McQueen’s left me feeling detached. This problem comes from dialogue that I found too literary, many famous actors, and McQueen’s observational visuals.

This is one of those cases where I feel bad for not loving the film, because of societal pressure and perceived social importance. I look forward to trying this film again, and I certainly hope you support it, as we need more high profile movies that tackle difficult subject matter.

Grade: B+/A-

Death Row: Blaine Milam + Robert Fratta by Werner Herzog

Telluride revealed two new episodes in Herzog’s (Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World) death row documentary series, which examines current death row inmates. The episodes, about Blaine Milam and Robert Fratta respectively, each dive into why these white men are on death row and who they are as human beings.

Herzog opens each episode stating clearly that he’s against the death penalty. What follows are looks at humans who have committed despicable crimes. Herzog is challenging his audience and himself. These emotionally heavy stories play very well as 44 minute segments made for TV, needing no more or less time. For me, they successfully humanized the death penalty discussion, which is often abstract to me.

Grade: B+/A-

Manuscripts Don’t Burn by Mohammad Rasoulof

This is the kind of film that’s existence is inherently political, and thus deserves special consideration. Rasoulof and all the main participants in the film either left Iran previously, or had to leave to ensure their safety upon the initial screening of this film at Cannes. Rasoulof explores the actions of what he calls the Iranian dictatorship, through following two members of the secret police who are attacking Iranian intellectuals. Like Panahi, I find Rasoulof to be a good but underwhelming filmmaker working with important material.

Visually the film is a notch under many of the other films I’ve written about, like Ida, Blue is the Warmest Color, Labor Day, The Past, and even Nebraska. However, Rasoulof works well with actors and tells his story courageously. He successfully humanizes these otherwise despicable people, and highlights the intellectual, emotional and physical persecution of intellectuals in Iran. Watch this film for the content, but not the style. I’m personally of the mind that seeing films like this, and supporting Rasoulof, is the duty of socially conscious film viewers. See this in theaters.

Grade: B+

Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski

Ida is a film that most people won’t see, which is a damn shame. It’s a 1960s story of an orphaned girl about to take her vows in a Polish convent, finding out that she was born Jewish. Pawlikowski explores Ida contemplatively with restraint, nuance and patience. His images fascinate me, and I can’t figure out why. I absolutely need to see this film again, under different conditions (I saw 16 films in about five days, you do the math). 

Sadly and embarrassingly, I don’t have much else to say about the film. My reactions are strong, but on a deeper, intuitive level that hasn’t quite risen to the surface. I’ll get back to you when I get to see the film again.

Grade: A

Brandon on Telluride: Chapter 2, the next five films (re-post from

This originally appeared on, 9/16/2013.

I was fortunate to attend the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium this year, seeing fifteen films. This "Chapter" has my second set of film reviews. The final installment, coming later this week, will have my take on McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, the new Herzog film Death Row, Palme d'Or winner Blue is the Warmest Color and more. 
Labor Day by Jason Reitman, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin

Reitman strikes again. I absolutely adore Jason Reitman’s films, especially Up in the Air, which I saw three times in theaters. Up in the Air has left me in tears many times, and I’m sure it will many more. Clearly, I’m very biased.

Labor Day is a very different film for Reitman. Rather than being sharp and quick-witted, it’s careful and considered. Reitman introduced the film as a story about love, so I was shocked when the film began as a thriller in which an escaped convict kidnaps a single mother and her 12-year-old son. What follows is a Hollywood story, with the rare quality of using familiar methods masterfully. Reitman lets the camera calmly glide up streets and around trees in the quiet yet intense New England setting.

The film struck me as being about parenting. The boy’s father is around once a week, but he’s not truly mindful and present. Somehow this escaped convict comes into their lives, and touches both mother and son, because he truly pays attention to them. Only a great filmmaker can take a seemingly absurd premise and put the whole theater in tears. Reitman achieves this with grace, further revealing how exceptionally talented he is. 

Grade: A

Nebraska by Alexander Payne, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte

Despite some beautiful moments, Nebraska didn't connect with me. Alexander Payne’s recent film The Descendants had the same strange juxtaposition of stunningly raw and real emotional moments, ruined by noticeably unrealistic comedy. I imagine that, like me, your reaction to The Descendants will be a strong indicator of how you react to Nebraska.

The landscapes are beautiful, and the black and white cinematography works quite well. However, I couldn’t get past Will Forte’s questionable acting and Payne’s tone. There’s not much deeper I can dig with this film, because I’m driven away from it by the tone. If you loved The Descendants run out to see this, if not, don’t bother.

Grade: B/B-

The Unknown Known by Errol Morris

Who is Donald Rumsfeld really? I still don’t know. The Rumsfeld we see in Morris’ (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) new documentary doesn’t differ greatly from the Rumsfeld that we’re used to seeing. The documentary reveals Rumsfeld’s self-deception, and his presumed lack of regret. There are a few moments that stood out as valuable, revealing his core philosophies and logic used to make decisions as Secretary of Defense. Overall I was quite disappointed, unclear about what to take from the film.

To be fair, I feel ambivalent writing this. I don’t feel like I have a strong hold on the film, and a fair analysis requires a second viewing. Errol Morris deserves that respect.

Grade: B

Burning Bush: Part 1 by Agnieszka Holland

The first part (84 of about 240min) of Agnieszka Holland’s (Oscar nominated In Darkness, The Wire) new HBO mini-series is exciting and thoughtful, high quality television. The film details the “Prague Spring” in 1968, so history buffs should love it. It moves relatively quickly, often revealing exciting new plot development after exciting new plot development. The reliance on plot excitement was getting overwhelming in just the first 84 min, so I can't imagine how it would feel across 240 min. While I wasn't engaged enough to watch Parts 2 and 3 at the festival, I'm intriguing enough to seek them out when they're publicly available.

I’m not sure how it will be released in the US (as one film, as three parts, as more than three parts?), but it will work under any circumstances. Please note that my experience is only of the first 84 minutes, so it’s severely limited. Holland’s wish is that people watch all four hours in one sitting, which I unfortunately could not do.

Grade: B+

La Maison De La Radio by Nicolas Philibert

This film was the lightest, most inconsequential film I saw at Telluride. Most people I spoke with considered this more of a love letter than an examination, and I agree. Seeing the management of French national radio and the development of content was intriguing, although it would’ve worked better as a short documentary. I don’t have much criticism of this film, it’s simply what it is, and that’s not something I’m particularly interested in exploring as a non-radio listener and person who’s not particularly interested in the French perspective.

One thing that came up in discussions with other students was the relative lack of colored people in the documentary, which seems to be a reflection of the company. Minor, unexplored observations such as this are what kept the film on my radar. Wait for Netflix Instant Watch for this one.

Grade: B-

Brandon on Telluride: Chapter 1, the first five films (re-post from

This was originally posted on, 9/14/2013.

I was fortunate to attend the Telluride Film Festival Student Symposium this year, seeing fifteen films and meeting with filmmakers including Werner Herzog, Asghar Farhadi, Errol Morris and running into others on the streets, like Alexander Payne, Jason Reitman Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen. This "Chapter" has five feature film reviews, and there will be two more installments with five film reviews each as well. The next installment will have my take on the new Jason Reitman, Errol Morris and Alexander Payne.
Gravity, by Alfonso Cuarón, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney

Cuarón has created a thrilling film that literally had me shaking for much of its 91 minutes. It opens with a seemingly routine space mission at a satellite. The calmness of this lightly humorous scene is disrupted by an onslaught of dangerous debris that rips through their ship. Only Stone (Bullock) and Kowalsky (Clooney) live, and their story of survival begins.

Gravity has many annoying Hollywood moments that could take you out of the film, like overdone sentimentality, eye-roll worthy overuses of Clooney’s charm, and obvious one-liners. If you can get past that, you’ll be riveted by the films thrills, shaken by the deep sense of fear created by spatial loneliness, and moved by a damaged person finding strength.

Events unfold in ways that are often thrilling, rather than meditative. I generally prefer the latter, but I had a damn good time. Even given those Hollywood story moments, I felt for Bullock’s character in the end. The last shot of her is tremendous, and one of my favorites all year.

Grade: A

The Past, by Asghar Farhadi starring Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim

Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) stuns me. His films deftly prod deeper and deeper by peeling away the onion-like layers of the situation he establishes. As a filmmaker, Farhadi has a quietly powerful presence with complexity of thought, depth of feeling, compassionate patience, and profound understanding.

Like A Separation, The Past meanders around the aspects of a central conflict. The film moves from character to character, exploring each person’s unique perspective, and in this case pain, to establish complete understanding. Each portrait is fully realized. Several times I couldn’t hold back tears, as Farhadi slowly pulled back the curtain. Like one rarely does at the cinema, I felt the full depth of characters’ emotions. I felt the character Lucie so strongly inside that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn't stop caring about her.

The tragedy of The Past, as well as A Separation, is not that we’re all different. It’s that all human beings are essentially the same, and our inability to see this often causes tremendous pain, whether that be in minor quibbles or death.

The Past touched me deeply, and I will never forget it.

Grade: A

Tracks, by John Curran starring Mia Wasikowska

The subject matter of Tracks intrigued me greatly, however the execution left me detached and disappointed. It details the story of an outsider, unsatisfied with the safety of her place in Australian society. I believe that this feeling is something natural within her, however it may also be accentuated by the ways in which society failed her. She lost her mother to suicide, had her beloved dog put down, and her father was relatively absent in her life.

Curran takes us through Davidson’s (Wasikowska) journey at a pace that’s weirdly a crawl, sprint, crawl, sprint combination. We will slowly move through an aspect of her life or journey, and then suddenly skip ahead five weeks missing seemingly important struggles. I never really felt like I got into Davidson’s head, and understood her experience. The film was so preoccupied with telling us that she needed to let people into her life, that it never made me feel the truth of that statement. The film has beautiful shots of Australia and some lovely metaphors, but save it for an on demand viewing because much of it falls flat.

Grade: B-/B

Before the Winter Chill, by Philippe Claudel starring Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas

The new film from Claudel (I’ve Loved You So Long) made a quiet splash at Telluride, and with good reason. It’s yet another look at French bourgeoisie, and it doesn’t have much new to add to the conversation. Claudel stated that the film explores a middle-aged couple that lives in the same house but not together. More so, it centers on the relationship between the husband, and a mysterious woman whose identity as a provocateur in husband Paul’s life, as well as a person of color, is the main intrigue of the film.

Despite some memorable shots, and exciting plot developments, the film bored me especially because of its pristine cinematography. Despite being a film of some quality, Before the Winter Chill is the kind of movie that drowns at a festival like Telluride because the other works are so far superior. I’d like to re-watch the film in a more humble context, so maybe I can derive more from it.

Grade: B-/B

Sadourni’s Butterflies, by Dario Nardi starring Cristian Medtrano and Antonella Costa

Sadourni’s Butterflies is quite a strange ride. For better or worse, the experience of watching the film was similar to my experiences at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’m engaged and concentrated for the first 30-40 min, and then the liveliness of the art sends my mind racing to other places. In both cases, I find it a failure of my concentration, not the work itself. It is the quality of each work that inspires me to think so vividly and energetically.

The absurdity of Sadourni’s Butterflies delighted me, especially after seeing so many heavy, realistic films. It’s hard to describe why, because it comes from a visceral place. Nardi’s images are carefully constructed out of the silent era, and they carried me through the often-confusing story.

Grade: B

Subconscious Password by Chis Landreth

Yes, that IS a cartoon image of William S. Burroughs above...Subconscious Password was a hilarious and engaging short film that preceded Sadourni’s Butterflies. It details the events within a man’s subconscious as he tries to remember an acquaintance’s name at a bar. The situation is delightfully familiar, and Landreth brings new life to the idea of how our subconscious works. In this case, it involves a game show with Ayn Rand, John Lennon and other fun guests like Burroughs.

Grade: B+

Brandon and Mary talk The History of Future Folk with Jeremy Kipp Walker and John Mitchell (re-post from

This is re-post from from 8/19/2013. 

This week NUFEC e-board members Brandon Isaacson and Mary Tobin had a conversation with Jeremy Kipp Walker and John Mitchell, who directed the 2013 release The History of Future Folk. Walker and Mitchell have worked on two short films together, Goodnight Bill and Super Powers. Walker co-directs and produces, while Mitchell co-directs and writes. In addition to working with Mitchell, Walker has co-produced Academy Award nominated film Half Nelson, and produced Sundance Film Festival selections Sugar and Cold Souls.

After premiering at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, The History of Future Folk played the festival circuit where it won Best Screenplay for a Comedy Feature at Fantastic Fest Film Festival 2012, and the Audience Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival 2012.

You can learn more about the film from our recent review, their website, and their Facebook and Twitter pages.


Jeremy Kipp Walker (left) and John Mitchell (right) at the 2013 Film Independent Filmmaker Grant And Spirit Award Nominees Brunch at BOA Steakhouse on January 12, 2013 in West Hollywood, California

Source: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images North America

NUFEC: It has now been over a year since you documented two brave Hondonians saving the earth. Still, President Obama has not mentioned it in a speech. STILL, there has been no parade. I am deeply sorry for my country’s ignorance. Can you forgive us?

JKW: That’s a great question, and probably best answered by our Future Folk heroes themselves. General Trius…  Mighty Kevin…  What do you say?

General Trius: Hondo.

The Mighty Kevin: Hondo!

General Trius: While we’re very excited to be receiving public recognition for our movie (which recounts our roll in saving Earth and its people) a year and a half does seem like a long time to wait for a parade. 

The Mighty Kevin: We can imagine that those giant keys take a while to cut, though.

General Trius: Yes, and we look forward to receiving the accolades appropriate for a celebration of this magnitude soon. Also, quick FYI, The Mighty Kevin is allergic to confetti.

NUFEC: Future Folk’s stage show is more filled with jokes and less rooted in human narrative and drama. How did you transform their act to be more relatable and adept for a film? What was the biggest challenge in that regard?

JKW: We’ve been big fans of the stage act since they first started in 2004. There is this incredibly charming combination of ridiculous, low-fi space costumes juxtaposed with beautiful and sincere bluegrass music. And the whole thing is interspersed with this funny, sprawling backstory.

JM: That was part of the challenge on the screenwriting side. What worked on stage wouldn’t necessarily always translate to screen so we had to really treat this as an adaptation. The first thing I did was simplify the backstory – partly for storytelling reasons and partly due to budgetary constraints.

JKW: And the other big challenge with the movie was tone. We wanted it to be a comedy and we wanted to preserve the spirit of the stage act for sure, but we knew the movie could devolve pretty quickly if we didn’t try to imbue the film with somewhat grounded characters and emotional stakes. Balancing the absurdity of the movie was something we were very conscious of throughout making it.

NUFEC: You’ve said in previous interviews that there was a real family atmosphere when making this film. How do you think that impacted the decisions you made regarding the screenwriting process? Were you more willing to go crazy because you trusted those you worked with or less willing because you felt an obligation to have the film look a certain way?

JKW: The whole thing was very much a family affair. We didn’t have a lot of money to make it but we did have a lot of goodwill and friends who were willing to help out. We shot it the neighborhood where we live, we used our apartments, the local bar and coffee shop as sets and our friends as extras. We basically took stock of what we had and shaped the story around that. 

JM: And at the end of the day, we’re making a movie about a couple of bucket helmet wearing aliens playing space bluegrass music, so keeping things light and playful on set was important to set the tone. So long as we could get the work done…

NUFEC: This was Nils’ first acting project. Was there any concern there that his inexperience might show on camera?

JKW: Yes, that was a huge leap of faith on everyone’s part. But he trusted us and was willing to do whatever he needed to and he did an amazing job.

JM: And it was also something we worked with on the screenwriting side. Knowing these guys for years, we were able to write the film to their strengths. We knew what each of them could do very well and shaped the movie around it.

NUFEC: Jeremy, how did your experience working on successful indie films such as Half Nelson, Sugar and Cold Souls inform this film? Did you ever reach out to Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck or Sophia Barthes for help with Future Folk?

JKW: Yes, I definitely pulled from all of my experiences and relationships working as an indie-producer all these years in NYC. John and I had directed several short films together that did well on the festival circuit, but taking on a feature film of my own was a daunting task. And while there is often some creative overlap between directing and producing on indies – at the end of the day it’s sort of the difference between being an Uncle or a Father. And this was my first-born feature film, so to speak. But it was really all of the time on my other producing projects that gave me the confidence and experience to know how to co-direct this one.

NUFEC: Evan Saathof at Bad Ass Digest said, “…The History of Future Folk is a film better suited to packed theaters than on lonely, chocolate fingerprinted computer screens. This is a crowd pleaser, so seeing it alone might not be the best idea.”

Do you agree with this sentiment? Why did you put the film on VOD and iTunes almost immediately after releasing it theatrically?

JKW: You bring up a really great point. The movie played around two dozen film festivals for a year before it was released and we got to tour around and watch it at a lot of packed houses across the country and abroad. And seeing it with a large audience is definitely the best experience. It’s a comedy with live music and you feed off the energy better when you see it in a group setting.

JM: But then there’s the reality of getting people to see your movie in a theater when it comes out…

JKW: Exactly. With film festivals they have their own advertising and built in audiences but with our commercial release we had no advertising money so we’re relying on reviews and word-of-mouth to spread awareness. We decided we could reach more people if we released on iTunes and in theaters at the same time so we could take advantage of timing of our reviews. This is the way it’s going for most lower budget indies these days. Although I think it’s definitely better to see the movie in a theater it’s harder to get people out of the house for something without movie stars and huge marketing dollars. At the end of the day way more people have seen our movie on iTunes. Although I wish more people could see it in the theater as it was intended to be seen, we’re so lucky as filmmakers to have these alternative methods of getting the movie in front of audiences.

Brandon Isaacson and Mary Tobin discuss The History of Future Folk (re-post from

Brandon Isaacson and Mary Tobin discuss The History of Future Folk (re-post from from 8/14/2013)
The History of Future Folk might possess several plot holes and amateurish touches, but the part-concert, part-alien invasion film’s quirk, warmth, and beautiful music fitfully drown out those issues. Where many films would overdo fantastical plot elements or peculiar character traits, the film’s absurdity managed to amuse rather than incite eye-rolls. Genuine wit and heart kept us glued to the screen.

The film follows a two-person folk band called Future Folk, both members of which appear to be human but are actually aliens from the planet Hondo. Bill (Nils d’Aulaire) and Kevin (Jay Klaitz) were sent from Hondo to aid in a takeover of Earth, as a comet will soon destroy Hondo. The Hondonians must relocate to Earth to survive. However, instead of eradicating humans, they found an immediate, childlike affection for music—something they’d never encountered on Hondo. Now admirers of human creations and performers of alien-folk music growing in popularity, they must find a way to destroy the comet threatening Hondo before Hondo and Earth destroy each other. Yes, this is very silly. Yes, it’s also actually a very good movie.

The levity doesn’t detach from the serious emotions of the film. Touching upon the strained coexistence of differing societies and the power of human emotion, the screenplay manages to walk the razor’s edge of creating a zany, eccentric sci-fi fantasy film while rooting the plot in an emotive human narrative. Quite impressive.