dir. Pablo Trapero
Starring: Martina Gusman, Bérénice Bejo, Edgar Ramírez, Graciela Borges
Set in a country estate in Argentina, The Quietude tells the story of two sisters Mia (Martina Gusman) and Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo). Eugenia travels back from Paris to The Quietude, the family’s expansive estate, when their father suffers a debilitating stroke. As the two pick up where they left off secrets start to bubble up to the surface: a pregnancy, extra marital affairs, fraud, toxic relationships and secret papers. This is more than just a story about rich people behaving badly. It’s about a family delving into a state of chaos as everything begins to unravel.
Pablo Trapero’s film takes the viewer on a wild ride they don’t even know they’re on. The story has several twists and turns and it borders on the edge of melodrama but never crosses the line into soap opera territory. The sexuality in the film is at times titillating and confusing. The gaze of the male director was palpable. There is a scene with the two sisters that to me felt more like a male fantasy than something that would occur between the characters. Gusman and Bejo (best known for The Artist) play their parts beautifully and in a rare instance in the history of cinema, they actually look like sisters. The standout performance is delivered by veteran actress Graciela Borges who plays the deeply tormented matriarch of the family.
Throughout the film, the family’s chaotic state is represented through reoccurring electrical outages that cause the lights to flicker and the music to screech to a stop. The Quietude is filled with absurd moments that become almost humorous. There is so much built up tension that at the film’s biggest climactic scene the audience let out a laugh. Less so because the scene was funny but because we needed to let something out.
The Quietude is dark and mysterious. While the male gaze was a bit heavy handed, I still felt like the female characters were interesting and the leads had some wonderful moments to shine.
Trapero’s film has been picked up by Columbia Pictures but no US release date has been announced. His film The Clan is available to watch on Netflix.
I attended a special press and industry screening of The Quietude at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
dir. Sam Levinson
starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne, Bill Skarsgard, Maude Apatow
“You had it coming, America.”
When a movie starts with a preview of trigger warnings you know you’ll be in for a wild ride. Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation was one of my most anticipated films of TIFF and it delivered on many fronts. This modern take on the Salem witch trials is dark, twisted, raunchy and violent. It follows the story of four teens as they navigate their senior year with all the peer pressure that comes with it but kicked up several notches when key members of the community get hacked. Led by Odessa Young, the four young women including Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra, the town of Salem begins to spiral out of control and they become the target of the community’s blood thirsty need for their brand of justice. On the surface this might seem like another scary movie to watch on Halloween but on a deeper level it delivers some cutting critiques about modern day society. It explores peer pressure, the sexualization of young women, toxic masculinity, privacy, doxxing, public shaming, mob mentally, misplaced righteousness and distrust of authority. And if you’re like me and shy away from horror films, this one has some violence but there is so much to enjoy from the visual imagery, costumes, lighting cinematography, typography that makes it well worth the gory scenes. I loved the female empowerment message and found myself pumping my fist in the air and cheering the protagonists on. Assassination Nation is not one to miss.
Neon releases Assassination Nation in theatres on September 21st.
I attended a special press screening of Assassination Nation at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
“This is about the playing. Not the winning or losing. It’s about having fun.”
Michael (Garret Dillahunt) is eager to work as assistant coach for his son’s little league baseball team. But he gets more than he bargained for with head coach Don (John C. McGinley). These two are as different as could be. Michael was a curling champ in his youth and fondly remembers the spirit of the game and has long forgotten any wins. Don, on the other hand, remembers every game and holds personal grudges when circumstances led to a catastrophic loss. Their coaching styles clash, confusing the kids who don’t know who to listen to. Should they buy into Michael’s brand of everyone-is-a-winner mentality? Or should they listen to coach Don who believes every game is a fight for glory? As the season progresses we learn more about the complicated histories of these two coaches. Michael is a recent widower starting fresh in a new town. Don is having marital issues causing him to put more of his focus on the game. Will the two find a way to work together to help the team make it to the championships?
Benched is the feature film directorial debut for Robert Deaton and George Flanigen. Unlike other movies about elementary school sports, the focus here is not on the kids but on the adults. I thought this was a curious choice for the filmmakers. Besides some scenes singling out a couple of the kids in particular and a thorough introduction to each team member, we really don’t know much about them as characters. They’re not who were rooting on. Instead it’s the two coaches, both of whom are navigating through a transitional period in their lives.
Adding just a touch of estrogen to the film is Jlynn Johnson who plays Carolyn, a love interest for both Michael and Don. I wish her character was more complex but there wasn’t much room in the film for her part to bloom and blossom.
The clash between Michael and Don is a sort of metaphor for a divided America. Michael is the stereotypical lazy liberal, accepting of many, encouraging of any effort and sees all the kids as equals in their field. Don is the hard-nosed conservative with a winners-versus-losers mentality who is very vocal about the team’s hierarchy. They learn from each other and ultimately have to compromise. Perhaps the message here is a political one rather than one of personal motivation.
If you’re looking for a positive sports movies featuring kids overcoming obstacles, then look elsewhere. Benched is a much different movie. It’s a complex study of disparate individuals, in this case, two adults. The film starts off a bit cheesy and awkward but once it picks up I found it quite engrossing. The baseball scenes were fun to watch and I found myself rooting on the team. If you like sports movies and want to try something a bit different, give Benched a shot.
Benched is screening in select theaters today and also available on VOD.
“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”
In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.
“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen
In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.
“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles
The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.
As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?
Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.
Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.
Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.
Life for 13-year-old Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is in a state of transition. Living with her mom Ally (Delphine Roussel) in Toronto, the two head north to Parry Sound, Ontario to spend time with her father Scotty (Christopher Bolton). Her parents are separated and on the brink of divorce but take the summer to re-evaluate their marriage. Scotty runs a diner, the Snack Shack, the central hub for the small community. It’s there that Bea meets Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), another girl her age. The two lock eyes and instantly connect. They’re as opposite as they come. Bea is awkward, quiet, thoughtful and Kate is outspoken, self-assured, abrupt. They both come from broken homes but where Bea has caring parents, Kate has a strung out mother, angry sister and mentally disturbed brother. Bea and Kate quickly develop a bond that goes deeper than just friendship. On the cusp of womanhood, these two sort through their feelings for each other and must deal with the escalating dramas in their respective families. Bea and Kate’s story is one of love and friendship told over one glorious summer.
Porcupine Lake was written, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger, founder of pUNK films. In an interview Veninger said about the film: “Porcupine Lake is a story I’ve wanted to tell for years.” The idea came to her while she was in a writing workshop led by actress Melissa Leo. Veninger goes on to say,
“All of my films have been personal — not autobiographical but always a combination of fiction and real experience. When I was 12, my father managed a roadside snack bar in northern Ontario. I spent many endless summers wanting a best friend so badly, but mostly I was left alone to be with my boredom and solitude, and ultimately, my imagination.”
The film was shot on location in Parry Sound and the surrounding area. During production another movie, a behind-the scenes documentary called The Other Side of Porcupine Lake, was film simultaneously.
Over 50 girls auditioned for the parts of Bea and Kate. Veninger was looking for young actresses who were natural in their instincts but could also be true to the characters. She found two gems with Salisbury and Hall.
Porcupine Lake is a sensitive portrayal of two young girls on the precipice of change. It brilliantly depicts the attraction between two people who are totally captivated by each other. It also does a fantastic job exploring family dynamics and capturing small town life. The lead actresses were totally convincing. I was drawn in by the story so much that I was already craving a sequel by the end. It’s like a quieter Heavenly Creatures (1994) without the tragic intensity.
If you’re looking for a good coming-of-age LGBT story, look no further than Porcupine Lake.
Porcupine Lake is distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and will be available on DVD and digital on August 14th. The DVD includes the behind-the-scenes documentary.