by Walter Chaw I use these trips to the Telluride Film Festival as year-markers: summaries and confessions sometimes filled with hope for the new year, although I find I live almost entirely in the past, in fear of the future, neglecting the present. I don't think this is an unusual malady (indeed, it might be the common malady), and shaking loose of it may be the pestilence that finally ends us and not any other. This year, I took a different route to Telluride, not through the canyon, but straight across the I-70 to Grand Junction, then south to the sheltered valley where Telluride sits. Partly I did this for the novelty of it (I haven't driven over Vail Pass since an accident I had there...can it be a decade ago already?), and partly out of wanting to pick up my friend Katrina from the Grand Junction airport to drive her down to meet her husband at the festival. Every time I go through the Eisenhower Tunnel, I remember that particular passage from The Stand and how, several years ago, I listened to its audiobook on the way up to a different Telluride. It was the first time I'd made it to the end of the novel. A die-hard fan of King's, I nevertheless find his fantasies difficult water to tread. Colorado is a beautiful state, though I worry that the lakes and rivers are looking as low as they're looking right now. I doubt I've ever seen them quite so dry.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL turns 24 this month and I became curious what our 24 most-read reviews might be. Unfortunately, we didn't sign up for Analytics until 2014, and any record of our traffic before then has evaporated from the Internet. So, uh, here's a countdown of our 24 most-read reviews since, um, 2014. Few surprises on here (longtime visitors to the site can probably guess what took the #1 spot, with 147,457 reads), but definitely a head-scratcher (#6) or two (#20). Perhaps the biggest takeaway? No Marvel. DC is another matter entirely, though. Thanks again for reading and supporting us!-Ed.
by Walter Chaw I think there are so many film festivals now that it's never not festival season. As a consequence, no one festival is more important than any other festival. They're each a different tentacle of the distribution/exhibition octopus, an appendage of chthonic horror. If any distributor happens to show some apparent innovation, call it a novel mutation: temporary and vestigial on the body impolitic. Celebrate A24 and NEON, in other words--but I have an idea that everyone is connected to the same profit motive. Meanwhile, the festival clockwork churns on unimpeded.
There will be libraries written about the fallout from 2020: memoirs and sociological studies and an entire generation of art forever coded to this collective flashpoint. If the trauma from an event like 9/11 can reshape the discourse for the next decade, how long will the afterimage of the pandemic--of probably 500,000 known dead when all's said and done from wilful mishandling and a lack of financial, medical, and institutional support--linger in the minds of the survivors? How will we, together, come to terms with our current status as a banana republic, vanquished in a non-shooting war by foreign dictators, and on the verge of witnessing the pathetic, ignoble death of our brief experiment? It will go, and we won't even fight.
Fantasia Festival runs from August 20 to September 2, 2020. For more details, visit their website.
by Walter Chaw I don't have a lot to add about how exceptional Montreal's Fantasia International Film Festival is or what a shame it is not to be able to have it in person this year. I don't know that there's a lot I can add to any conversation right now. I do have something to say, I guess, about how much film festivals have meant to me over the last few years as I deal with sometimes-crippling depression--about how just being in rarefied air among friends and colleagues who only know me as a film critic means...something. It represents a possible present where I don't have regrets and resentments, though, in fairness, I don't have either of those things much anymore. Time has worn me out and down, grooves in me where the needle skips.
With everything going on in the world right now, it's difficult to find the mental bandwidth to think and write about movies. Nevertheless, they're still coming out--on various platforms and streaming services and on Blu-ray and DVD--and I want to assure our readers and patrons that while our coverage has slowed, we have no plans to abandon the site, which turned 23 (!) in May. Partly in celebration of that and partly just to brighten your day, we recently made the first five entries in Walter Chaw's Patreon column "Life During Wartime" available to all. (See links below.) In each instalment of this wonderful feature, Walter introduces his kids to a new classic film and discusses it with them in depth; I've personally learned a lot so far.
Walter also wrote about the Bruce Lee documentary that's making waves (no pun intended), Be Water, but because it was part of his Sundance coverage, I fear his review of that might have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Lastly, the ActBlue Bail Funds divides donations between 11 charitable organizations providing financial assistance to low-income people, protestors, and bystanders expected to post high cash bails after being arrested at #BlackLivesMatter protests across the United States, and I'd be remiss if I didn't include a link. Please consider giving whatever you can. To all who have marched: bless you.
Bill Chambers, Ed.
2019 will be defined for me by two things--one is interesting, the other is not. The "not" is that my friend Sam killed himself. He used a gun. Sam and I disagreed about guns. He had been in various levels of law enforcement, retired to be a 9-1-1 operator, found himself traumatized after his service, and moved across the country to be closer to his young daughter and ex-wife. To be a dad, you know. Sam owned a lot of guns, but in the last couple of years, he began to ask me about statistics and troubling trends. Mass shooting events devastated him--as they devastated all of us, before we got used to them--and the doctrine and culture in which he was raised started to show its limitations as a strategy for species survival.
by Walter Chaw I'm statistically past the midway point, alive for more years than I will be alive for again, and I've spent most of my time denying, being embarrassed by, often hating, who I am. I was born in Colorado in 1973, raised in downtown Golden in a Norman Rockwell postcard of an existence. I walked to school, walked to the little silversmith store my dad owned when it was over, earned pennies at the barbershop on the corner where the mayor, Frank, operated the first chair. I got my money shining shoes and catching flies in the little plastic bags my dad used to put little gems in for his customers.
For those who don't follow me on Twitter, some health issues have been keeping me away from my obligations to the site, editorial and otherwise. Updates will (continue to) be sporadic until further notice. In the meantime, check out our festival reviews of current releases, including Parasite, Pain and Glory, Joker, and Judy, and keep refreshing because new content will appear whenever it is humanly possible.
by Walter Chaw There's a scoop in the mountain face on the way back from Telluride, like a bite has been taken from the rock. Below is a clear, blue lake fed by snowmelt, so the water is bitterly cold. I found it by accident. I stop there every year to break up my drive. This year I sat on the beach for a while, stood up a few bleached wood branches into something like a cairn, took my shoes off, dug my toes into the sand, and soaked them for a minute in the water as shoals of fry darted around. I sucked air in through my teeth. I nodded off to the sound of the water lapping and the wind in the grass by the road, and I thought of this passage from The Sound and the Fury:
And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand.
Attention classic-film buffs and TCM junkies:
Since FILM FREAK CENTRAL is technically a Canadian website, based in southern Ontario, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about the 27th annual Port Hope Vintage Film Festival. Running from September 27-29, it's a rare opportunity to see classic films--such as Top Hat, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and La Belle et La Bête (the theme for 2019 is, you guessed it, Famous Cinematic Duos)--on the big screen, at Port Hope's gorgeous Capitol Theatre (pictured above). Proceeds go to the Marie Dressler Foundation, which is raising money this year to provide bursaries for local high-school students. There's even going to be a silent auction where you can bid on movie memorabilia and other ephemera--including some DVDs that may or may not have been donated by yours truly. Further details here!-Ed.
by Walter Chaw About 16 months ago, my mom received an 18-month diagnosis--meaning she has maybe two months to live. We'll see. When I broke it to my parents that I was dropping out of the engineering track at college to pursue a degree in English, there was a lot of silence and then my mom said: "Don't write about us." I don't think I honoured her request for even a second. This is the first time I've written about her directly, but I don't believe it's possible to not write your shit. I mean, if you're doing it right. I think if you read my stuff, for whatever reason, with the right eye and the right experience, it wouldn't be difficult to nail what my issues are. They're florid and manifold: beware when hunting monsters and all that.
Overture, curtains, lights,
This is it, the night of nights
No more rehearsing and nursing a part
We know every part by heart
Overture, curtains, lights
This is it, you'll hit the heights
And oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it
Tonight what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it
Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 11th to August 1st in Montreal, Quebec.
Just in time for the first photographic evidence of a black hole, Claire Denis's High Life opens in Canada this week alongside Max Minghella's directorial debut, Teen Spirit. We--that is, Angelo Muredda and yours truly, respectively--covered them at last year's TIFF. Also hitting an unspecified number of screens this weekend in advance of its VOD debut is David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake, which made Walter Chaw's Top 50 of 2018 back when we thought a leaked rip was as official a release as we were going to get.
Lots more to come post-Easter.-Ed.
by Bill Chambers Recently cited as one of the "100 Podcasts Worth Listening to" at VULTURE, Australian Blake Howard's "One Heat Minute" has seen Howard and a panoply of guests doing the lord's work of dissecting Michael Mann's Heat one minute at a time since August, 2017. It was my honour to join him for minute #139, in which the police check Chris Shiherlis's fake ID after his wife Charlene signals him that the coast isn't clear--although Blake isn't a stickler and our conversation turned out to be far more wide-ranging than that. Just a heads-up if you want to hear me ramble on about Michael Mann, a pet topic of mine. (Or if you ever wanted to hear someone compare Heat to Love Actually.) Our own Walter Chaw will also be appearing on an upcoming episode, and I can't wait to listen; stay tuned.
2018 was a traumatic year for me that should turn out to be a good year in hindsight. I read something by a career counsellor who told clients thinking about a change to stop thinking and quit their job. He said you can't know what you can do until you stop doing what you're doing. I've spent the past six months doing things I would never have had the time or headspace for had I not walked off a ledge. It's not good for the heart but it's good for the soul. I've finished a couple of large writing projects and positioned myself to be available for a handful of genuinely interesting opportunities. I'm evolving. It's a daily thing. It's a work of a lifetime. This year, I have watched my friends achieve extraordinary things with their art and it's filled me with joy, not to mention inspiration. I don't know what they see in me in return, but I hope to justify their faith in 2019. I wouldn't have been able to be rash without the strength of my family and the support of my friends. A couple--you guys know who you are--somehow knew when to reach out and did with the right encouragement in what felt like the nick of time.
Quick links to our reviews of current releases for those playing catch-up over the holidays. Thanks for reading us, folks.
Opening this week are a few films we covered at festivals earlier in the year. Walter Chaw reviewed Jason Reitman's The Front Runner at Telluride, while I wrote about Boy Erased, Transit, and Bodied--all three of which were released in Toronto today--during TIFF (TIFF '17, in the case of Bodied). And be sure to check out our reviews of some other recent releases that may have escaped your attention, including The Old Man & the Gun, Monrovia, Indiana, and the great Burning.-Ed.
by Walter Chaw Summer seems to be lasting longer, the weather in general is more severe. If the '80s were about apocalyptic fears around the proliferation of atomic weapons and an unstable President, the '10s are about those same fears multiplied by the corporatized destruction of the planet and, in a stealthy sort of way, the rise of the genuinely ignorant as the arbiters of culture and government. When George W. was President, I was interested in the defense that he seemed like the drunk uncle you'd have at a backyard BBQ. He didn't read much, trumpeted his "C" average in school, made up words, started a war because someone was mean to his daddy. Idiots found him relatable and non-threatening; "Conservative Party" developed a more literal definition. I liked to suggest the President be someone who read more than you, did things you couldn't do, was actually smart and not Fredo-smaht!. The only thing this thirtysomething percent of Americans who still think Trump is great--either cynically and opportunistically, or because they're really just stupider than fuck--were ever right about is that their elected leader is the ultimate "trigger" for people who are their betters. Like psychopathic juvies tormenting their unit nurse, they think it's worth it to distress them. It feels good and new, and as the fires grow higher, so, too, does their ardour for their golden calf.
by Walter Chaw After a decade's absence, give or take, I started coming up to the Telluride Film Festival again six years ago at the urging of good friends whom I otherwise hardly see. I was in a bad place and they knew it. They didn't offer platitudes, they offered a challenge, and so one year I accepted it. The hardest thing to do for someone who's depressed sometimes is to accept help. I have come to find that the best gift you can give your friends who worry about you is to ask for help. The problem with depression is it tells you that you are a burden. It's exhausting.
Our FrightFest 2018 coverage launched today in conjunction with the start of the festival and will be updated frequently with reviews and interviews over the next several days. In the meantime, a handful of titles screening there we covered previously, and those reviews are linked below.
by Walter Chaw One of the major misconceptions about film critics and scholars is that they aren't fans of film first, and if they are, then surely they wouldn't be fans of a genre as disreputable as horror. But I've long held that horror is an indicator species in our socio-political quagmire. That often with only limited studio oversight, and because they're entirely possible to execute with a small budget in a short amount of time, horror films, by talking about what a society fears, can tap into the collective unconscious more quickly and effectively than any number of "prestige" presentations. There's a reason most myths and fairy tales have strong horror elements. Get Out is a lot of things, for example, but its closest analogue is George Romero's landmark civil rights masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. I wonder if the horror movie's primal simplicity has anything to do with the disdain with which even its creators sometimes approach it. In any case, horror is important, essential, vital. When it's right, there's not much else righter.
by Bill Chambers While I was composing this "curtain-raiser," a fellow critic tweeted that she'd been offered press credentials for an upcoming film festival but didn't see the point of accepting them, since travel and lodging would inevitably cost more than she would make reporting on the festival. Montreal's venerable genre-film festival Fantasia, now in its 22nd year, has attempted to solve this kind of dilemma and broaden awareness of its brand by inviting online outlets to view the majority of its slate remotely via streaming links. Obviously "screeners" are not a new concept and have for the last few years helped sites like ours round out our coverage of various festivals, but nothing has ever been attempted on this scale, with most of the films accessible via a centralized hub. We're proud to have been invited to participate in this experiment, because with Telluride and TIFF hitting so soon after, and with travel being a challenge even for those of us who live relatively close to Montreal, it's improbable that we'll ever get the chance to attend Fantasia in person. It's something that had always given me, personally, a bigger case of FOMO than Cannes, because if we have a niche, Fantasia fulfills it.
by Alice Stoehr "I can't imagine what you must think of me!" laughed Cecelia Condit. The audience had just seen her groundbreaking shorts Beneath the Skin (1981) and Possibly in Michigan (1983 (left)), plus a swath of her 21st-century work, and she seemed a bit sheepish about her own films' morbid sense of humour. Between the murders, masks, and nursery rhymes, a streak of dark whimsy runs through them, orienting her as a woman in the world. Condit's a garrulous storyteller in life as in her art and was forthright about the layers of autobiography in her work. Annie Lloyd (2008) shows her mother pressing leaves between pages at the end of her life. Within a Stone's Throw (2012) has Condit herself hiking Irish hills in the aftermath of her mother's death. Images of carrying and collecting recur across these films, a motif that suggests both affection and the assertion of control. These are rough-hewn fables that plumb the possibilities of video.
by Bill Chambers In the interest of full disclosure, I've yet to see three of the major Academy Award™ contenders, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, or Phantom Thread. Fortunately, they've all been discussed on Twitter with the fanatical zeal of that machine that stuffs corn down a duck's gullet to make foie gras, so I felt I could bluff my way through this year's scorecard. I for one look forward to enjoying Michael Stuhlbarg's Call Me By Your Name monologue once I've forgotten how good it's supposed to be.
There's one good thing that came out of the first year of the Trump presidency, just one: this realization that what we had always indulged in terms of masculine misbehaviour is dangerous and vile. The entertainment industry, the lowest arm of which gave us Trump, took the brunt of the new "wokeness," almost as though it were taking responsibility for birthing something like Trump by enacting a purge. It's not over. One can only hope the enablers are next--the ones who looked the other way or silently helped normalize a flesh tax for entrance into the realm. Change has to be more than lip-service and the now-familiar tone-deaf apology for narcissism and incomprehension. I could go deeper here about my personal dismay, sense of betrayal, rage, disgust...and I want to--but men have been talking over women about their experiences for long enough.
Opening this Thanksgiving weekend in select cities is Joe Wright's Winston Churchill drama Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman and a Costco tub of latex. And don't miss Greta Gerwig's solo directorial debut Lady Bird, which has been quietly expanding into more theatres. Our own Walter Chaw covered both films at this year's Telluride.
by Walter Chaw
Things to do in Telluride:
Hello, we recently turned twenty. That means we've been around as long as "Gunsmoke" was. That means we're old enough to play Aunt May in the next Spider-Man reboot. That means if you started watching a Hobbit movie when we started it would just now be wrapping up. Of course, Hobbit movies didn't exist then; them's were halcyon days.
by Walter Chaw There are conundrums presented by what I do now for a day job and this moonlight I won't quit. Let me get at that by telling you an old, old story about filmmaker Peter Hedges that is sort of current again because he's acting in a good film out this year called Little Sister. (His son, meanwhile, co-stars in Manchester by the Sea.) When I met Mr. Hedges, it was to interview him for Pieces of April. As per my usual process, I saw and reviewed the movie first, logging it with Bill before going to meet him. The idea behind this is that I never want my work to be coloured by any personal feelings I might develop for the artist over the course of a conversation--for good or for ill. It's not that I don't trust myself to be fair, it's that I don't know how knowing someone changes the environment in my head. I will be fair, but I'm not the same person before I meet someone and after. The world essentially changes when you meet someone.
by Bill Chambers The reason film and physical media are prematurely pronounced dead every few weeks is that the mainstream keeps narrowing, limiting the visible spectrum of both industries. Studios remain halfheartedly committed to Blu-ray Disc but, as this Top 10 list incidentally shows, it's really become the domain of boutique labels restoring and annotating studio-neglected fare, capitalizing on streaming's short-term memory and populist leanings while inspiring devotion among connoisseurs. Please note that I limited my selection process to titles I've personally audited and would endorse anyway, with or without frills. Some of these may be reviewed in full at a later date.
by Walter Chaw We've decided to get rid of our comments section here at FILM FREAK CENTRAL. We kept it for longer than we should have, I think. Our world isn't getting any better. It's getting a lot worse. I stopped engaging with our commenters a while ago. I've come back a couple of times in the last few years, but for the most part it's just been this thing that festers, this thing in the basement that gibbers to itself. I've asked friends to not tell me what's being written about me in there. I'm a lot happier not knowing.
There was a time when I tried my very best to answer every comment, to engage in conversation and debate. I would defend every word, point by point. I never changed any minds, though, and I'm sure I made a few enemies. It's funny, but looking back at every time I scored a point, I got cheers from the people on my side and sullen silence or escalation from my victims. I took some pleasure in that. I guess I understand the compulsion in leading the ugly parade.
I learned about trolls before there was a term for them. They're not there to debate, they're there to shit on the carpet and then defy you to notice. The more things fell our way, the more trolls showed up here to talk about my race, my family, the state of my mind. People impersonated friends and colleagues to leave awful remarks...anything to get a rise. The deciding moment for us was when NPR announced they were closing their comments section because after conducting a few surveys, they discovered that their commenters are predominantly white males. There's nothing wrong with white males. A lot of my friends are white males. Most of them, in fact. But they're not the genre that comments in comments sections. They don't even read them because of what's in there, or might be.
They don't attend Trump rallies, either. This isn't a non sequitur, it's precisely the point. Trump is the physical manifestation of the comments section. The reason it doesn't matter what he says or does is because he's just a flag, the inciting symbol behind which a mob of angry people can gather to express their frustration, rage, and fear most of all. Just as folks don't care what the Confederate Flag hid on its taxes, they don't care that any two sentences out of Trump's mouth contradict each other. It's not about the man, it's about the catalyzing agent. That's what makes him dangerous. That's what makes comments sections dangerous, as well. They allow the absolute worst representatives of our society to find one another and join hands. Without them, they don't have the wit to organize.
So that's the main reason comments are kaput.
Another one is that when it's not a breeding ground for hateful people to agree on something, it's a place for dull people to say the same things other dull people have said for centuries. There's nothing new in being critical of critics. It's as old as criticism itself, which is as old as art. Yet here they come, film upon film, piece upon piece, with the same clichéd rejoinders and witty one-liners meant to wither the critic. They range from stuff like "tell us what you really think" to other winners like how the critic is out of touch/hates movies, how 'movies are for entertainment and I was entertained,' or, Geez, you must lead a really sad life. Most of these statements are rank with their own embedded ironies. Back in the day, an angry e-mailer gave my Episode II review a take-that! star rating that was still better than the rating I gave the movie. That one's a keeper.
In other words, the comments section is going away because it's either full of ignorance and hate, or full of boring people saying the same boring things other boring people have been saying since they started talking. It gets to the point where you look at them and think to yourself, Yeah, buddy, give it a year or so and tell me again how this is the best movie that was ever made.
I do wonder now and again how many people who died on the hill defending stuff like Episode II or Forrest Gump are feeling about their Waterloos today. Good, I hope. Hell, it's nice to have things you like.
There's one aspect of the comments section I'll miss. There was a comment that turned into an e-mail exchage a few years ago after I wrote about my depression and how it hamstrung me and how I was trying to work my way through it with film as my agency. I had before; I was going to try to again. The guy who wrote me told me I'd helped him through my writing to not kill himself. That's sobering as shit. It's a weird thing to say, but save a few pieces like this one, I never really imagine anyone's reading my work. I have an audience of one: Bill, FILM FREAK CENTRAL's founder and editor. He's among the dearest friends I have and this writing thing of ours is how we keep in contact. We live 1000 miles apart and have not, to this day, met in the flesh. It's a miracle, right? The Internet, I mean. Bill and I met through the comments section on another site.
In other words, what I'll miss is the odd time a commenter becomes a friend. It's not about agreement, it's about respect and the honest desire to engage. That's been drowned out by the din of abhorrence and rampant trolling, although I know it's still out there somewhere, even if it's buried beneath the rubbish.
Anyway. I'm still on Twitter for the time being: @mangiotto. Bill is, too: @flmfreakcentral. And Bryant Frazer: @deep_focus. And Angelo Muredda: @amuredda. And former FFCers Jefferson Robbins (@Soulsmithy), Alex Jackson (@wokelstein), and Ian Pugh (@MetaEnthusiast). I like Twitter because it lets me mute and block and prune my echo chamber to my heart's content. You can @ me if you want. Oh, and please donate to our Patreon. Every penny goes to the site's upkeep. I've been here fifteen years and running. Here's to fifteen more.
by Walter Chaw Telluride rests in a valley on the Western side of Colorado. It sits at 8,750 feet. You have to cross Monarch Pass (elevation approximately 12,000 feet) to get there from where I live, a six-and-a-half hour drive away. If you're doing it right, you walk everywhere in Telluride, taking the free gondola service over the longer stretches up and down the mountain, and feeling the sharp constriction in your chest when your body, even one acclimated to a mile above sea level, discovers there's noticeably less oxygen to breathe at such great heights. I wonder if mild hypoxia has something to do with my euphoria while I'm here. I am the best version of myself at the Telluride Film Festival, even as the festival itself continues to subtly decline by inevitably becoming more beholden to middlebrow interests and tastes at the same pace it now sells out the highest level of ticket package they make available. Not the ones you can buy off the website, the ones you secure through $100,000 donations.
Note that there are other Disney movies that begin with the company's name over a starfield (The Black Hole, Toy Story 2), but given Lynch's history of paying tribute to The Wizard of Oz, these two seemed less of a coincidence.
by Bill Chambers Hey, folks: I debated long and hard about whether to post this here and I hope you'll forgive the self-indulgence. This is a recently-posted music video I animated and edited for The Rioting Pants, my brother's band; linking it because it's seasonally fitting, a kind of monster rally inspired by "Scooby-Doo" as well as those Hanna-Barbera videos that used to clog the gaps between Saturday-morning cartoons. It ain't up to the level of Pixar but it is entertaining, in my humble and biased opinion. Be sure to select the 1080p viewing option for the full HiDef experience--I worked hard on those backgrounds!