SXSW 2020 Review: Waffle (dir by Carlyn Hudson)


Can I get a connection?

The 10 minute short film, Waffle, begins with what appears to be a sleep over.  Kerry (Kerry Baker) and Katie (Katie Marovitch) are both sitting on a couch in their pajamas, talking about a time when they hung out with the cutest boys in their class and they all ended up making out in someone’s car.  There’s a lot of giggling and hugging and most viewers won’t buy it for a second.

It’s not just the fact that both of the women appear to be a little bit older than the usual sleep over participants.  In fact, neither one appears to still be in high school.  It’s also hard not to notice that, for two best friends, Katie and Kerry really don’t seem to know each other that well.  When Kerry is trying to tell the story about a night that she and Katie hung out together, Katie keeps interrupting her and telling her to change the details.  Katie is also quite insistent that Kerry will have waffles, despite Kerry’s lack of enthusiasm for the idea.  When Kerry mentions that her friend Rapahel (Raphael Chestang) is coming by, Katie does not react well to the news.

Things only get stranger from that point on.  Katie is someone who is not only used to getting what she wants but who also has the money necessary to make sure that no one ever says no.  Kerry has her own motivations but it doesn’t take long to notice that she doesn’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about spending too much time with her “best friend.”  The film goes from being a comedy to a drama to back to being a comedy to being …. well, I don’t want to give away too much.  Let’s just say that a lot happens in just ten minutes.

Waffle is a clever look at the struggle to make a connection in an increasingly isolated community.  Katie Marovitch alternates between being menacing and being almost sympathetic in the role of Katie while Kerry Cook’s performance keeps the story grounded in an identifiable reality.

It’s on Prime, at least through May 6th so, if you’ve got ten minutes to spare, be sure to check it out.

SXSW 2020: The Voice In Your Head (dir by Graham Parkes)


Poor Dan!

As played by Lewis Pullman, Dan seems like a decent enough guy.  He’s a little bit on the dorky side and he seems to be kind of shy.  He’s one of those people who you always see kind of shuffling along with head down.  When he speaks, it’s in such a soft voice that it can be a struggle to hear him.  He’s insecure and anxious and really, it’s understandable once you see what he has to live with.

The thing you have to understand about Dan is that he wakes up every morning and has to deal with the voice of his anxiety (played by Mat Wright), a loud and obnoxious bully who follows him everywhere that he goes and who constantly tells him that everything he’s doing is wrong.  Dan can’t even have a friendly conversation with his co-worker, Julia (Trian Long Smith), without the voice taunting him and telling him that he’s useless.  The voice is everything that Dan is not.  The voice is loud and flashy and obnoxious and totally unconcerned with any feelings that he may hurt.  The voice is every moment of anxiety that anyone in the world has ever felt.  He’s every insecure thought and lingering regret.  He’s ….

Well, there’s actually a bit more to the voice but I’m not going to spoil this short film but revealing all of its secrets.  About halfway through this film’s 13-minute running time, there’s a huge twist and I can’t reveal the details.  I will say that it’s a very clever little twist and it’s one that will take you by surprise.

The Voice In Your Head is a well-directed comedy about anxiety.  Lewis Pullman is sympathetic as Dan while Mat Wright is brilliantly obnoxious in the role of the Voice.  I don’t personally know the director, Graham Parkes, so I won’t speculate on what may or may not have inspired this film but, just from watching, he seems to be someone who not only understands anxiety but who also understands a good deal about human nature.  The things that cause us the greatest anxiety often appear totally different once we actually confront them and that’s something that this film certainly understands.

It’s on Prime, at least through May 6th.  So, be sure to check it out.

SXSW 2020 Review: Affurmative Action (dir by Travis Woods)


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South By Southwest has been canceled this year but fortunately, you can still go over to Amazon Prime and watch some of the feature films, documentaries, and shorts that were scheduled to be featured this year.  That’s what I’m going to be doing tonight and tomorrow.

I started things off by watching Affurmative Action, which is a 5-minute short film that is largely made up with shots of various “Meet the Team” pages.  Those are the pages that appear on almost every business’s website, where you see smiling pictures of all of the people who are in leadership positions.  This is especially true of small businesses, where the idea is that you look at all of the smiling, cheerful, hip faces and you say to yourself, “These are people who I want to work with!”

The majority of the “meet the team” pages that are featured in Affurmative Action come from advertising, media, and other creative companies that are located in either New York or Los Angeles, which are two very diverse cities with reputations for being culturally liberal.  Director Travis Woods points two things out to us over the course of five minutes:

First off, it’s very common to see a dog (and, in one, case a cat) listed as being a part of the team.  Sometimes, they’re listed as being “mascot.”  One lucky dog was a Vice President of Barking or something like that.

Secondly, it’s very rare to see any black faces on the Meet The Team pages.  In fact, the film makes the argument that you’re more likely to see a dog on the Meet The Team page than you are a black person.

Now, I have to admit that, when I first watched the documentary, I had what is probably a very stereotypical white girl reaction to it.  “Awwwww!” I said, “those dogs are so cute!”  (I’ll also admit right now that I was the one who suggested to Arleigh that Doc Bowman should become a contributor to the Shattered Lens.)  But, once I got over the cuteness of the dogs, I also realized that the documentary was making a very valid and important point about the lack of diversity in many companies, especially when it comes to upper management.  The dogs may be cute but they’re not the ones who are being shut out of leadership positions and who aren’t being given the same opportunity to advance in their careers.  If nothing else, Affurmative Action is a film that I will remember every time that I look at a “Meet The Team” page.

As I said, it’s a short film.  It’s only five minutes long.  The dogs are cute.  The film’s point is serious and will make you think.

Memory As Mystery : Travis Dandro’s “King Of King Court”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

There are any number of “child’s eye view” memoirs competing for the attention of the contemporary comics reader, but Travis Dandro’s 2019 debut graphic novel, King Of King Court, makes the most of that particular visual and narrative storytelling “hook,” even if the results are admittedly a mixed bag. How much of that is by design and how much is down to uneven execution is something of an open question — to my mind there are pretty clear instances of both — but making that on-the-fly judgment call is part of the fun of this book, although given its harrowing subject matter I should state for the record that I use the word “fun” advisedly in this instance.

So, yeah, about that “harrowing subject matter” — Dandro’s memoir starts with his six-year-old-self learning that his best grown-up buddy, Dave, is actually his father, and things only get more convoluted…

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Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989, directed by Peter Bonerz)


The sixth Police Academy film opens with another crime wave.  Considering that the Police Academy Class of 1984 was supposedly the best to ever graduate, they don’t seem to have done much to clean up the city.  This time, a series of robberies are being committed in the Wilson Heights neighborhood.  Since Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey) and Lt. Proctor (Lance Kinsey) don’t seem to be capable of upholding the law in their precinct, the Mayor (Kenneth Mars) orders Harris to work with Commandant Lassard (George Gaynes) and the usual gang of Police Academy graduates.

Carey Mahoney is still missing in action but Nick Lassard (Matt McCoy) has transferred up from Miami and has taken Mahoney’s place as the resident smartass.  Also returning are Sound Effects Man (Michael Winslow), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Tackleberry (David Graf), and, after having been absent for the previous two films, Sgt. Fackler (Bruce Mahler)!

I cannot believe I’m saying this but Police Academy 6 turned out to be better than I remembered.  It’s just as stupid as all of the other Police Academy films but everyone seems to be having a good time and Matt McCoy no longer feels out of place as Mahoney’s replacement.  Bruce Mahler’s return as Fackler also means a return to the physical comedy that he excelled at in the first two films and the total incompetence of Harris and Proctor is handled better here than it was in the previous few films.  A welcome addition to the cast is Gerrit Graham, as the childish head of the robbers.  (Whereas the previous few films at least tried to pretend like the criminals were a potentially serious threat, City Under Siege presents them as being as clownish as everyone else in the film.  It’s a better approach because it’s not as if anyone watches a Police Academy film expecting to see something like The French Connection or Fort Apache, The Bronx.Police Academy 6 is a stupid, stupid movie and the jokes are as juvenile as ever but, along with Part 3, it’s still one of the better sequels.

Police Academy 6 was the first Police Academy film to not be a box office hit.  It would be followed by one final sequel, Mission to Moscow, which I’ll take a look at on Saturday.

Lisa Marie’s Possibly Pointless and Totally Random Oscar Predictions for April


To do Oscar predictions during a pandemic or not?

That’s the question.

Erik Anderson at Awards Watch announced on twitter that he’s not doing his monthly Oscar predictions for April and May.  (He is, however, focusing on the Emmys so be sure to visit the site and check out his thoughts!)  Over at Clayton Davis’s Awards Circuit, the Oscar predictions have been taken down and replaced by an ominous (though definitely needed) counter of how many people are currently infected with the Coranavirus.  As of right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty.  Are theaters even going to reopen before the year ends and if they do reopen, will people be willing to run the risk of going outside to see a movie?  So many of the big films of 2020 have been moved back to 2021 that one could legitimately wonder whether any of the big “Oscar” films are even going to come out this year. Most ominously, for me, is that we could get hit by a second wave of the Coronavirus.  It’s easy to imagine a situation where theaters reopen in the summer and, regardless of how business goes, are forced to close again in December.

The Academy is aware that the future is uncertain.  Earlier this week, they loosened the eligibility rules.  Films that premiere on VOD or a streaming service are now eligible for Oscar consideration as long as it can been proven that the film would have also gotten a theatrical release if not for the pandemic.  I’m not sure how exactly that could be proven but it does show that the Academy is, as of now, planning to give out some Oscars next February.

(Of course, just because the rules have been temporarily loosened, that doesn’t mean that every studio and director is going to want to put their huge blockbusters out on Prime or Netflix or VOD.  I doubt Spielberg wants to premiere West Side Story in your living room.)

So, for that reason, I’m going to continue to do my monthly Oscar predictions.  Needless to say, these are even more random than usual. The predictions below are also being made on the assumption that theaters will be open in November, December, and January.  Again, there are no guarantees, other than perhaps Netflix.

So, without further ado, here are my predictions.  Also, be sure to check out my predictions from January, February, and March!

Best Picture

Ammonite

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

On The Rocks

Respect

West Side Story

Best Director

Sofia Coppola for On The Rocks

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Francis Lee for Ammonite

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Best Actor

Ben Affleck in The Way Back

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Bill Murray in On The Rocks

Gary Oldman in Mank

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Sofia Loren in The Life Ahead

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Tom Burke in Mank

Bo Hopkins in Hillybilly Elegy

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steve Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Glen Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Amanda Seyfried in Mank

Helena Zengel in News of the World

We’ll see what happens.  Right now, your guess is as good as mine.  In fact, your guess is probably better.

“Drippin'” With Dread And Menace


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Somewhere in the inky depths of a dark, dank, foreboding dungeon, a fish head quite literally out of water finds itself trapped, and in desperate need of escape — will he/she/it make it?

This is the basic question at the heart of cartoonist Laurence Engraver’s 2018 Hollow Press-published Drippin’, a comic that takes absolutely full advantage of its format (obsidian-toned thick paper, dense white inks) and the sheer, enviable skill of its creator to tell a largely-wordless (barring the occasional animal sound effect) and exceptionally harrowing tale of survival against insurmountable odds. You think you know horror comics? This is a horror comic.

And by that I mean horrific to its core — from its dangling hooks to its murky passageways to its creaky wooden stairs to its vaguely Lovecraftian denizens, this book conjures an atmopshere — forgive me, but I’m going there again — dripping with a kind…

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Anything But “Blind”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

The name Evan M. Cohen is one that is unknown to me — but if his new Perfectly Acceptable booklet/’zine, Blind, is any indication, that’s my loss, because title aside, this thing is (sorry in advance) a real eye-opener. And surely this review can only go uphill from here —

Billed by its publisher as a “meditation on corporeality and creation, recollections recounted and reformed,” trust me when I say that only sounds oblique and borderline-esoteric — in truth, if you’re willing to absorb and fully consider these sequences of illustrations with an open mind and heart, what you’ll find here is one of the most disarmingly straightforward, unpretentious comics (a term that probably applies quite loosely in this instance) you’ll have been privileged to enjoy in quite some time.  And that word is key — enjoy.

I needn’t tell you that the production values of this book…

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