“You are entering the realm of the clandestine and forgotten. A split screen caught between channels.”
Set in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night follows two teens as they uncover a secret frequency that reveals an otherworldly presence in their small town. On the night of Cayuga High School’s basketball game, Everett (Jake Horowitz) the local radio DJ who has a knack for technologies, meets up with Fay (Sierra McCormick), a switchboard operator. Fay asks Everett to teach her how to use a tape recorder. Fay hears a strange noise coming from one of the phone lines and she captures the sound on tape. When Everett plays it on the air, the two learn that something is amiss in their community. Billy (Bruce Davis), a retired military worker and Mabel (Gail Cronauer), a homebound widow, both reach out to Everett with their stories of secret military experiments and extraterrestrials. Everett and Fay are on the run to uncover the truth behind these stories and why the aliens are targeting their hometown.
Directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, The Vast of Night is a dialogue driven drama. Rapid-fire chatter mixed with slow, methodical storytelling drive the plot forward. Not much happens in the way of action and the story’s tension comes from increased paranoia and the uncovering of a supernatural mystery.
“The Vast of Night an exercise in people telling stories to each other. Drawing you in detail by detail.”
director Andrew Patterson
While the dialogue is key to the film, I found there to be too much of it. Cut away 25% of the chatter, especially in the beginning of the film, and I wouldn’t have felt like I was drowning in dialogue. The real appeal for me was the science fiction element with an emphasis on mid-20th century technology: radios, tape recorders, audio reels, switchboards, telephones, etc. There is also retrofuturistic vibe with the discussion of the year 2000 and “electronic highway control.” All the characters wear period appropriate clothing and vintage glasses. Some of the scenes are filtered through a blue-tinted television screen adding to the retro vibe. McCormick and Horowitz were convincing as the curious, technology loving and seemed plucked right out of the 1950s.
The Vast of Night will appeal to fans of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Twilight Zone. The heavy dialogue can be exhausting but if you have the patience to get through it you’ll be rewarded at the end.
The Vast of Night had its world premiere at Slamdance 25.
Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a kindergarten teacher whose life has stagnated. She takes a continuing education class in poetry to reignite the creative flame within her. But her contributions to class are mediocre and her teacher Simon (Gael Garcia Bernal) is unimpressed. One day she overhears her kindergarten student Jimmy (Parker Sevak) reciting an original poem. She begins to project her own desire for creative genius onto this gifted young boy. This is the start of her downward spiral. Jimmy becomes the object of her obsession. Her fixation takes up all of her energy and she distances herself from her husband and teenage children with whom she feels are not tapping into their own personal talents. Lisa presents Jimmy’s poems to her class, taking credit for them. She exhibits a dangerous lack of boundaries, isolates Jimmy from the other kids and becomes more and more involved in the boy’s life. It may seem like Lisa at first wants to nurture Jimmy’s talent. His poems are organic and beautiful and she is concerned that his current family environment will stifle his burgeoning genius. However, we come to learn that this isn’t about Jimmy. It’s about Lisa.
“If you stay open and stay curious, you can see the world however you want.”
Directed by Sara Colangelo, The Kindergarten Teacher premiered at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and I had plans to see it there but passed because I was worried it might be triggering for me. When Netflix picked it up and I was able to watch it at home and at my own pace. This film put me through the ringer emotionally as I expected it would. It’s beautiful, poetic, disturbing and horrifying all at once. What makes this so unsettling is that for any intellectual, especially one with a creative drive, it speaks to deeply rooted fears of not having the space for creative expression or coming to terms with a lack of real talent. Lisa becomes overwhelmed by these fears. At one point she says, “Talent is so fragile and so rare. And our culture does everything to crush it.”
Some viewers will see the film as a story of a woman going through a mid-life crisis. But it’s so much more than that. The film can be seen as a metaphor for the creative struggle. Jimmy is the embodiment of the genius that Lisa so desperately craves. Her desperation reaches a frightening level. The story masterfully unfolds as Lisa descends deeper into her mania. Gyllenhaal is brilliant in her performance. I love the nuances of her performance. The gentle demeanor of a teacher coupled with the despair and sense of urgency behind her sad eyes. There are some subtleties like Lisa gently bribing Jimmy with a piece of chocolate so she can separate him from the class that add to the emotional horror of the story. The strength of this film is the amazingly told story that’s perfectly paced. And that ending will hit you like a punch in the gut.
The Kindergarten Teacher is available to watch on Netflix.
I’m honored to be a return guest on the Cinema Shame Podcast hosted by James Patrick. I did a two part episode with him on the entire Rocky franchise (Part I and Part II) and we reunited to discuss Creed and Creed II.
Set deep in the Caucus mountains during the Georgian Civil War, Dede stars Natia Vibliani as Dina, a young woman struggling against her family’s strict rules regarding marriage. She’s betrothed to David (Nukri Khachvani) but is in love with his friend Gegi (George Babluani). David and Gegi are great friends and David owes his life to Gegi ,who saved him in battle. When the two discover that they both love the same woman and that Dina only loves Gegi, David commits suicide. With David out of the way, it seems like Gegi and Dina can go on with their lives. They marry and have a boy, Mose. However, they face many trials and tribulations as Dina’s failure to fulfill her duty in marrying David creates animosity among her community. A string of tragic events turns Dina’s world upside down and brings a new man Girshel (Girshel Chelidze) into her life. Can Dina ever find happiness in an unforgiving community and an even more unforgiving landscape?
Dede was directed by Marian Khatchvani and written by Khatchvani along with Vladimer Katcharava and Irakli Solomonashvili. It was filmed on location in Svaneti, Georgia. Konstantin Esadze’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. There are breathtaking shots of the secluded village with the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains. I love the juxtaposition of the stunning beauty of the surrounding nature but the brutality of living in such a harsh climate.
This is a quiet, unassuming film with a powerful message. It expertly portrays the cruelty of arranged marriages. When you take the humanity out of relationships and family building in the name of tradition, there are harsh consequences. And while Dina is the main victim of the many tragedies of the story, it’s the community who must learn the error of their ways. You get a sense of how traditions can be soul-crushing for those involved.
Dede is available from Corinth Films on DVD and on Digital through Vimeo and Amazon Prime.
Singer Joanne (Cobie Smulders) and her band are on a nostalgia tour in Dorset. Big in the 1990s, Joanne is struggling to hold on to the magic from two decades ago. When her bandmates quit and she discovers her boyfriend Larry (Noel Clarke) is cheating on her, Joanne is left to her own devices. She meets up with her best friend Sara (Jessica Hynes) and they drunkenly apply to a local college. The next morning they find out they’ve been accepted. Not willing to deal with the current state of their lives they become part of the college scene, going to parties, challenging each other to ridiculous competitions and making friends with their dorm mates. Joanne meets Pete (Richard Elis), a relatively shy and awkward guy who works as the college registrar. At first Pete is just a potential hook-up. But as she gets to know him she discovers something more meaningful in their encounters. Pete and Joanne are polar opposites and the positive aspects of their personalities start to rub off on each other. Can Joanne let go of her past and embrace a future full of unknowns?
Alright Now was written and directed by Jamie Adams. It’s was shot over 5 days and the scenes are entirely improvised. This is quite a filmmaking feat and I would love to see a behind-the-scenes documentary discussing this aspect of the process. The story and the flow felt more organic, like I was watching a real story unfold rather than a scripted piece.
I really wanted to know more about Joanne’s career and the affects fame had on her. Instead the story focuses more on the love story between Joanne and Pete. At times I think there would be more to Joanne and Sara’s story but the movie would deviate away from them.
Alright Now is a charming indie movie that goes with the flow and lets the main character take her story where it will. Cobie Smulders is a natural fit to play the erratic yet fun loving rock star trying to make sense of her new life.
The movie is available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.