Kirsten Johnson’s film Dick Johnson is Dead isn’t dissimilar from Mucho Mucho Amor, which premiered at the True/False film festival just the night before Johnon’s film had its T/F opening, in the same exact venue. Where Mucho Mucho Amor is a more unexpected tale of closure at the end of a life, however, Dick Johnson is Dead is about preparing for a very expected end–the eventual death of Johnson’s father, the eponymous Dick Johnson, from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Kirsten Johnson (who also directed the masterful Cameraperson) and her father conspire on an artistic experiment meant to take some of the sting out of Dick’s expected passing. Johnson creates a series of short scenes in which Dick is killed, shockingly and accidentally. He falls down a set of stairs. He’s crushed by an air conditioner, and killed in a car accident. Johnson even buys him a small coffin to test out which, hilariously, cost exactly $666. She also films a few scenes that are her approximation of heaven, in which Dick is reunited with his wife, Johnson’s mother, and enjoys copious amounts of chocolate cake.
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Legacy was an interesting sub-theme of this year’s True/False Festival. Several of the films in this year’s lineup consider the impact a person’s life and/or work have on family, fans and the world at large. Some of these movies, like Mucho Mucho Amor and Dick Johnson is Dead dealt with this topic in conjunction with the end of their subjects’ lives. Others, like Crip Camp considered the legacies of self-made communities, and the people that powered them.
Feels Good Man is also about legacy. It’s not nearly as loving as any of the above-named examples, however. Feels Good Man is, in some sense, a horror movie about the legacy of images, the ownership of images by their creators, and the lives they take on outside of the artists who make them. In particular, it’s a horror story about the life of one particular image: Pepe.
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Welcome to Chechnya was one of several movies at True/False to come to the festival straight from Sundance. The documentary by David France (How to Survive a Plague) is this year’s True Life Fund film, which raises proceeds to help the selected film’s subject. The organizers picked an important film to highlight, and a cause so immediate and directly beneficial that it was difficult not to empty the entire contents of my wallet into the donation bucket on the way out of the theater.
Welcome to Chechnya follows the work of the Russian LGBTQ Network, an activist group working to combat genocide in Chechnya. Since 2016, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has led a pogrom against the republic’s LGBTQ+ population, complete with sanctioned detainment, torture and execution. The network France follows has created a kind of underground railroad, fielding pleas for help from endangered Chechens, putting them up in safe houses, and finding ways to smuggle them out of the country. The network’s leader, David Isteev, also hopes to convince the Russian government to open an investigation. To do that, he needs a torture survivor to go public. Doing so would mean a lifetime of hiding for whoever is brave enough to speak up.
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Before the opening night screening of Mucho Mucho Amor at this year’s True/False festival, co-director Kareem Tabsch discussed the impact that the film’s subject, the late famed Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, had on his life growing up, and in helping him come out as gay to his parents. “If they loved Walter, they could love me,” Tabsch said, introducing the film alongside co-director Cristina Constantini and producer Alex Fumero.
The way Mercado’s flamboyance and message of self-acceptance empowered so many of his fans plays a large role in Mucho Mucho Amor, just as much as its chronicle of Mercado’s late-in-life resurgence in popularity. It’s a documentary about a larger-than-life figure, but also a story about legacy, and the ways our lives can impact not only those around us, but people we may never meet.
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(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
As another decade draws to a close, it’s time to reckon with the best of what we experienced in movies. Particularly, it’s time to take a look at some of the more memorable movie characters, figures who stayed at the top of our hearts, minds, and the public consciousness. The 2010s brought us surprising meme subjects and multi-movie arcs which introduced us to new favorite characters and let them grow in our affections. Here are ten characters that made the biggest impact. Read More »
Posted on Thursday, September 19th, 2019 by Abby Olcese
Ask any progressive Christian who their favorite filmmaker is, and more often than not, you’re likely to hear Terrence Malick’s name invoked in reverent tones. Of course, plenty of folks who rarely (or never) set foot in a church recognize Malick as a significant artist. However, to Christians who care a great deal about the nexus of faith and art, it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about movies without discussing Malick first.
The reasons for this may be readily apparent to anyone who’s familiar with the director’s work. Essentially, though, they come down to this: most media associated with Christianity (say, Left Behind, or Breakthrough, for a more recent example) is not good art. It’s preachy and explicit in its messaging, with no apparent care for craft. Malick is the polar opposite, concerned more with questions, poetry and introspection. He’s also obsessed with craft, seeing great art as an act of worship in and of itself. Especially from 1998’s The Thin Red Line onward, his films feel like authentic, conflicted expressions of a personal spiritual journey.
Malick’s latest, A Hidden Life, is his most directly faith-oriented film to date. It’s the true story of Franz Jägerstätter (played by August Diehl), an Austrian farmer executed by the Nazis for refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler when called up to join the army. Jägerstätter is considered a martyr, and was beatified by the Catholic church in 2007. For Malick, he becomes a Christ figure, but also an allegory. He sees Jägerstätter’s life, and the lives of those around him, as examples of what happens when an ideology of hatred and fervent nationalism plants a stake in a community, and how people of faith are called to stand (and struggle to stand) against it. A Hidden Life’s WWII is a stand-in for the world right now.
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Posted on Wednesday, September 11th, 2019 by Abby Olcese
The new noir anthology series Briarpatch, which airs on USA next year, starts off with a literal bang. A young policewoman named Felicity Dill leaves her apartment and gets into her car. The car explodes, killing her. Roll credits.
The mystery of Felicity’s death, and the deeper corruption that lies beneath the surface of the small Texas town of San Bonifacio is the catalyst for season one of the series created by TV critic Andy Greenwald and produced by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail. The first two episodes of the show premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and together present a tight, very promising sample of what’s to come for the rest of the season.
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When the podcast Limetown debuted in 2015, it was an immediate cult hit, arriving in the wake of the great Welcome to Night Vale, and alongside shows like The Black Tapes and Nightvale spinoff Alice Isn’t Dead, as part of a scripted podcast renaissance. While the idea of scripted podcasts aren’t new—they’re basically just independently produced versions of old-school radio dramas—scripted podcasts developed to sound like nonfiction radio programs were still pretty novel four years ago. Creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie took a number of cues from Orson Welles’ infamous War of the Worlds broadcast, but they were just as influenced by This American Life and the runaway success of Serial just the year before.
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Just Mercy is a hard film to criticize, not because it’s great, but because the actual cause it represents is. Destin Daniel Cretton’s film is based on the 2015 memoir of the same name by Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founder and civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson. The book covers Stevenson’s experiences starting EJI, a legal nonprofit that provides representation to inmates who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons. EJI also works to fight mass incarceration and the death penalty, and provides re-entry assistance to incarcerated people.
EJI does valuable work in the sphere of mass incarceration activism and racial justice, and anything that can bring more positive mainstream attention and support to that work counts as good outreach. However, as art, Just Mercy ends up being a fairly bland crowd pleaser that doesn’t pick up the momentum it should until the final act.
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The lineup for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival feels like a smorgasbord of cinematic treats that promise an exciting fall movie season indeed. From well-regarded entries at other festivals to premieres of new work, there’s a lot we’re looking forward to. That said, there are more than 300 movies on the schedule this year, and nobody has that much stamina. With that in mind, we’ve created a few categories to highlight some of this year’s most exciting titles. Here’s what we’re looking forward to seeing in Toronto this week and beyond.
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