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Nextfest 2016: Goat, by David Bax

18 Aug

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Andrew Neel’s Goat opens with a series of shots that are beautiful, terrifying and as eerily familiar as they are alien. In super slow motion, with no sound but the non-diegetic music as accompaniment, a group of shirtless young men jump and holler, jeering and gamboling, their faces contorted into expressions of anger and joy. We never see what exactly they’re reacting to but it has clearly inspired a kind of violent ecstasy. It’s intensely homoerotic, of course. Goat is a movie about a fraternity. Its homoeroticism is so obvious and constant as to become unremarkable. Neel is clearly not out to make a movie about such an obvious element of fraternity life. Instead, he aims to define and challenge our ideas of masculinity itself.

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Nextfest 2016: White Girl, by David Bax

18 Aug

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Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl may concern the reckless adventures of the young woman described by the title, often involving the cocaine also described by the title, but it often feels like it’s aimed less at the demographic it ostensibly depicts and more at their parents. Like Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen before it and Larry Clark’s Kids before that, White Girl is little more than an afterschool special with a hard R rating, pearl-clutching alarmism with one clear message: Be afraid to send your white daughters to college in the big city.

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Nextfest 2016: The Greasy Strangler, by David Bax

14 Aug

 

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There’s a strain of comedy that we’ll call so-dumb-it’s-smart (think Paul Rudd protesting cleaning up his mess in Wet Hot American Summer) that came out of the 90s and early 2000s alt-comedy scene. Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler is a hollow echo of that brand. It’s so dumb that it wants you to think it’s smart. But this is not highbrow comedy masquerading as lowbrow. It’s just empty and gross and pointless.

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Nextfest 2016: Under the Shadow, by David Bax

14 Aug

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Babak Anvari’s politically and socially minded Iran-set horror film, Under the Shadow, begins atypically for its genre, with lengthy text detailing the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war and the repeated missile strikes the two countries delivered upon one another’s citizens. Set sometime during that struggle, Under the Shadow explores the life of a leftist, secularized woman in post-revolution Iran. The specter of hardline Islamism soon becomes embodied by, well, actual specters as our heroine struggles to keep her daughter safe both from bombs and from the malevolent supernatural forces that have invaded her home.

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Nextfest 2016: Morris from America, by David Bax

13 Aug

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Chad Hartigan’s Morris from America, being the story of a young African-American teen (Markees Christmas as Morris) living in Heidelberg, Germany with his widower father (Craig Robinson), is certainly novel in its premise. But after that novelty wears off, what remains is a by-the-numbers coming of age movie.

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Nextfest 2016: Lovesong, by David Bax

13 Aug

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When we see the word “love” in the context of a movie title, we’re conditioned to assume it means the romantic type. With her yearning and perfectly pitched Lovesong, director So-yong Kim challenges that reflex by blurring the line between friends and lovers.

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Nextfest Review: Entertainment, by David Bax

11 Aug

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Rick Alverson’s challenging, stirring, at times forcefully unpleasant but vital new film Entertainment starts with perhaps its most beautiful sequence, one that is surprisingly hopeful given the fact that it takes place in a kind of cemetery. The film’s protagonist, played by Gregg Turkington and unnamed in the credits (though another character does call him Neil), takes a tour of an “airplane graveyard,” where the husks of decommissioned planes bake in the desert sun. He walks through the empty fuselage of one of them and the long, arched ceiling above him resembles a cathedral. It’s a beatific origin for a story that will plum darker and more nightmarish depths as it proceeds. With Entertainment, Alverson attempts to chart the metaphysical landscape that exists between a performer’s persona and the real world identity and finds that it’s a lot like hell.

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Nextfest Review: Finders Keepers, by David Bax

9 Aug

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The events depicted in Bryan Cranberry and Clay Tweel’s documentary Finders Keepers are bizarre indeed. But the film succeeds by not being content to simply chronicle them, as grotesquely entertaining as that would certainly be. Cranberry and Tweel depict what unfolded as if it were a sort of kismet. For better or worse, the lives of these two men were forever changed because one of them won an auction for a used barbecue grill.

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Nextfest Review: Mistress America, by David Bax

9 Aug

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“You can’t know what it is to want things until you’re 30,” says Brooke (Greta Gerwig) in Noah Baumbach’ lively and hilarious new movie, Mistress America. The line gets a laugh both because it’s funny and because it’s so obviously false. Yet it speaks to the deeper truth at the heart of the film. Not one character, whose ages roughly span the 18-45 demographic, has this whole adulthood thing figured out but each of them all pretty sure he or she is on the cusp of discovering the answers.

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Nextfest Review: Cop Car, by David Bax

3 Aug

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Jon Watts’ Cop Car aims to be a lean action thriller with a dark blend of humor and violence and a delightfully villainous role for Kevin Bacon. In execution, it does all those things but it only does them halfway. There are nifty moments throughout – like Bacon breaking into a car by fashioning a tiny noose out of a shoelace, threading it through a cracked window and hooking and pulling the lock – and it never once drags. But it also never amounts to much of anything. It’s an enjoyable way to pass an hour and a half but it will most likely leave you feeling undernourished.

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