monster review

Originally published in 1999, Walter Dean Myers’s novel Monster has been a favorite among young-adult readers, using both a third-person screenplay device and first-person diary format to tell the story of honors student Steve Harmon, a black teenager with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, who is arrested and tried for felony murder in New York City after a bodega robbery goes wrong and the owner is killed. Was this kid from a supportive home a part of this crime? Or is he simply guilty of being young, black and on trial when he walks in the courtroom?

Music video veteran and first-time feature director Anthony Mandler has been desperate to bring Monster to the screen for years, and now he’s done so with a cast that includes such heavyweights as Jennifer Ehle, Jeffrey Wright, and Tim Blake Nelson, as well as musicians-turned-actors like Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, Nas, and A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) as Harmon’s co-defendant. Told in a non-linear fashion, Monster moves from Harmon’s life just before the crime to his time in prison and the eventual trial, all culminating in a look at the actual events surrounding the robbery. Various versions of the truth are told, and Mandler illustrates how a kid who wanted to capture the reality of his neighborhood got caught up in way he could never have imagined or wanted.

Harmon is played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., best known as the son in last year’s It Comes At Night. However, he was also in the Oscar-nominated Mudbound and was in two other Sundance films this year: Assassination Nation and Monsters and Men. Harrison delivers some truly rage-filled inner monologues in Monster that add a depth and level of frustration to both the character and the experience of watching the film.

This interview with Mandler and Harrison took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Monster debuted. /Film spoke with the two about the process of bringing the novel to the screen and the movie’s fluid definition of “the truth.” Monster has yet to announce a distributor or release date.

Read More »

The Kindergarten Teacher Review

For her second feature at Sundance (after her highly praised 2014 debut Little Accidents), writer/director Sara Colangelo has chosen to remake a four-year-old Israeli drama to examine the dying practice of encouraging and protecting artistic genius. Like the Staten Island educator at the center of this film, The Kindergarten Teacher pushes boundaries and crosses lines as it navigates its way through a tricky story of a five-year-old boy (newcomer Parker Sevak), who shows an unreal gift for poetry, and his teacher, Lisa (a career-best performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is also one of the film’s producers), who struggles in her adult-education class to be a poet as well, if only to add a bit of culture to a home life that offers her little by way of intellectual stimulation.

This interview with Colangelo took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where The Kindergarten Teacher premiered and earned Colangelo the festival’s Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category. /Film spoke with her about the appeal of this difficult story, the decision not to paint her protagonist as mentally unbalanced, and the risk of losing the next Mozart without proper encouragement. The Kindergarten Teacher has yet to announce a distributor or release date.

Read More »

Damsel Review

One of the earliest images we’re given in Damsel, the latest from filmmakers David & Nathan Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter), is of our presumed protagonists sharing a dance. Samuel (Robert Pattinson in full good-guy mode) and Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) are smiling and skipping along in a kind of line dance and just generally giving the appearance of young love. Considering some of the darker images we see throughout the film, the dancing is a welcome relief. Read More »

Hal Review

Anyone who knows the films of the late Hal Ashby often finds it difficult to put into words exactly what it was that separated his work from that of other directors that rose to success in the 1970s. In many ways, his significance and influence as a filmmaker is best understood in the works of more contemporary directors who were deeply inspired and empowered by Ashby’s maverick nature and refusal to allow his work to be altered or influenced by anyone but those around him that he trusted and with whom he worked closely—and uncompromising nature that eventually came back to haunt him as the 1980s brought about an era where profits and accountants ruled the studios, while art took a back seat. Read More »

Piercing Review

It’s clear from the very beginning of director Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing that he wants us on edge. He opens with a shot of a new father Reed (Christopher Abbott) standing over his infant son with an ice pick just inches from the child’s face. Reed snaps himself out of what seems like a trance and finishes packing for what he tells his wife (Laia Costa) is a business trip but is, in fact, a carefully planned and well-rehearsed killing of a total stranger, complete with a murder kit that we get to know well over the course of the film. Read More »

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

a futile and stupid gesture interview

Director and sometime performer David Wain has a long and successful history of directing beloved comedies with large ensemble casts, going back to his earliest days with sketch-comedy team The State and such feature films as Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models, Wanderlust, and They Came Together. But with A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Wain tackles the seemingly impossible task of covering the professional life of comedy writer and National Lampoon magazine co-creator Doug Kenney (played by Will Forte) in about 100 minutes. Kenny also was the man behind National Lampoon’s Animal House and Caddyshack (the making of both is detailed in Wain’s movie as well).

The film also stars Domhnall Gleeson (as Kenny’s partner in crime Henry Beard), Emmy Rossum, Natasha Lyonne, Seth Green, Martin Mull, Joel McHale, Matt Walsh, Thomas Lennon, Matt Lucas, Joe Lo Truglio, Paul Scheer, and Finn Wittrock.

This interview took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where A Futile and Stupid Gesture premiered. Director Wain was joined by two of the film’s producers, Peter Principato (also an executive producer on the series “Black-ish”) and Jonathan Stern (also an executive producer on “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return.” /Film spoke with the three about the process of making comedy from the ’70s and ’80s feel relevant today and the process of making the creative process cinematic. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is available on Netflix right now (read our review right here).

Read More »

Hereditary Review

Much like The Witch, another film distributed by indie powerhouse A24, the feature debut from writer/director Ari Aster (probably best known for his darkly comedic 2011 short The Strange Thing About the Johnsons) leaves open the possibility that you are not watching a horror movie but that you’re, instead, watching a horrific drama. While the modern-set Hereditary shares little else in common with that period piece, it does show a family in crisis, leaving emotional cracks wide open so something dark — perhaps actually evil — can crawl in an fester and eventually destroy all that was good and sacred about the sanctity of blood relations. In other words, Hereditary takes its deep-seated sense of danger and foreboding quite seriously and with a level of maturity that few of today’s horror releases do.

Read More »

monster review

Ever since its publication in 1999, author Walter Dean Myers’ award-winning novel Monster has be a favorite among young adults, providing them a glimpse into the world of Steve Harmon, a black teenager whose life is thrown into chaos when he is arrested and put on trial for taking part in a robbery gone wrong, resulting in the death of a Harlem bodega owner. The film adaptation from music video veteran and first-time filmmaker Anthony Madler is an ambitious, complex, and layered look at how the court system in America is virtually designed to keep defendants like Steve from every getting a chance at actual justice.

Read More »

leave no trace review

It’s almost impossible to believe that it’s been eight years since filmmaker Debra Granik debuted her powerful, atmospheric, four-time-Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and launched the career of Jennifer Lawrence into the stratosphere. While she did follow that up with her exceptional, long-in-the-works 2014 documentary Stray Dog, audiences have had to wait far too long for Granik to once again immerse us in a world that seems millions of miles away, when in fact she places us in long-ignored corners of America that are currently having light shone upon them for a variety of reasons. With her latest work, Leave No Trace, Granik moves from the depths of the Ozark Mountains to the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

Read More »

Juliet Naked review

If there’s one popular writer who knows his way around stories of shaky romance and an almost unhealthy obsession with music, it’s Nick Hornby. So it should come as no surprise that Juliet, Naked the latest film adaptation from the author of the source material behind High Fidelity and About A Boy – is replete with heartbreak, missed romantic opportunities, longing for connection and more in-depth analysis of music than you could ever want or need. More specifically, the music in question come from fictional ’90s musician Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who put out one of the greatest broken-heart records of all time entitled Juliet 25 years earlier, before vanishing from public life. Read More »