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Thumbnails 4/12/16


"'I'm not going away, people.'": BuzzFeed's Adam B. Vary pens a must-read piece on the excellent, criminally undervalued filmmaker, Karyn Kusama.

“Once the glare of the Sundance spotlights had dimmed, however, Kusama quickly began to experience another side of ‘the crush of the business.’ Rather than catapulting into success, or even slowly building out her body of work, Kusama seesawed between years of demoralizing industry indifference and directing two studio features that were challenging in the extreme: the sci-fi spectacle ‘Æon Flux’ in 2005 and the horror-comedy ‘Jennifer’s Body’ in 2009. The latter was a flop, but it has become something of a cult favorite. The former, however, was nothing less than a filmmaker’s nightmare, a self-described ‘eviscerating’ disaster that nearly killed her career before it could really get started. On Friday, Kusama’s fourth film, the taut psychological thriller ‘The Invitation,’ opens in limited release and on VOD. When it premiered last year at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, the venue held just 298 seats, and after the film’s Q&A, there was no mad swarm of Hollywood types eagerly waiting for Kusama to step off the stage. However, once again, the movie played like gangbusters, earning acclaim for Kusama and screenwriters Phil Hay (also Kusama’s husband) and Matt Manfredi. In many ways, ‘The Invitation’ is the ferociously entertaining, idea-packed showcase for Kusama’s considerable filmmaking talents, which were always central to the promise of that heady week in Utah. It just took 15 years for it to arrive.”


"Why music biopics so often fall flat": More superb commentary from The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday.

“To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke overestimating the combined pull of generational nostalgia, actorly vanity and the tried-and-true formula of a genius brought to an early demise by in­trac­table demons — or, better yet, one who comes back from rock bottom in high-note-hitting triumph. Except, of course, when they did. (We’re looking at you, ‘Jersey Boys.’) The musical biopic has become such a cliche-riddled genre that it’s already been suitably parodied, in the 2007 comedy ‘Walk Hard,’ in which John C. Reilly plays Dewey Cox, a singer who falls prey to the usual rock-star depredations of drugs, fame and petulant self-indulgence. ‘Walk Hard’ goes broad in its comedy, but it aptly calls out what has become the audience’s morbid fascination with watching talent and promise being summarily extinguished: In ‘I Saw the Light,’ Tom Hiddleston’s able portrayal of country singer Hank Williams is all but swamped in a drab, ­’Behind the Music’-like rehash of Williams’s history of alcoholism, drug abuse and marriage troubles. Viewers may leave the film impressed with Hiddleston’s physical resemblance to Williams, but with no deeper perception of what made his writing and singing so achingly powerful.”


"Pupinia Stewart is Stealing My Sanity": My appreciation of the very funny online performance artist (or is she a God?) at Indie Outlook.

“The reason why many people are fooled by Stewart is because they are blindsided by how good of an actress she is. Her monologues to the camera have the spontaneous flow of improvisation, and you never sense her straining to sell a punchline. The insanity in her words speaks for itself. Consider ‘England is Confusing,’ the video that apparently received howls of outrage online. After declaring that she speaks fluent American, Stewart reveals her confusion about the British term ‘pounds,’ and whether it indicates that England exists in a different part of the solar system. The illogic in her theory defies all calculation, and the fact that people took it seriously is rather astonishing. It all has to do with Stewart’s performance, which is like a masterclass in the art of deadpan line delivery. Other things that prove to bewilder Stewart are her mother’s bra, which she mistakes for a slingshot, and her menstrual cycle, while she believes is satanically influenced. In a style akin to Sarah Silverman’s parody of ignorance, Stewart’s persona is unable to deal with the complex reality of existence, opting to reside in a surreal fantasy of her own creation. She can barely contain her bewilderment at having to deal with a ‘gender binary’ customer at her shaving shop, and her delivery of the line, ‘So how was your…day?’, reminded me of Parker Posey’s cavernous pauses in ‘Waiting for Guffman.’ There are even videos, such as one called, ‘I joined a fandom,’ where it takes her a seemingly eternity to get around to acknowledging the alleged subject of her post. That’s because she’s too busy coughing, burping and fiddling with Silly Putty. It’s almost as if she’s daring you to switch her off, and yet I found myself unable to look away (Andy Kaufman would’ve approved).”


"How interactive storytelling is shaping the future of cinema": According to Andreas Kirkinis of Little White Lies.

“In 2006, former LucasArts employees resurrected the genre with Telltale Games, a company that re-introduced the formula through shorter, more cinematic games with less of a focus on puzzle solving. The company licensed hugely popular film and television franchises like ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Game of Thrones,’ allowing gamers to experience cherished worlds in an immersive new way. For the first time, players were being challenged on a moral level, presented with gut-wrenching ethical dilemmas – like choosing which team members would be left at the mercy of a zombie horde, or deciding if ‘just a scratch’ required an immediate, drastic remedy. Other studios quickly followed suit. Supermassive Games, inspired by popular genre titles like ‘The Shining’ and ‘The Evil Dead,’ produced the critically acclaimed ‘Until Dawn’. The company’s managing director, Pete Samuels, reveals that their intention was to keep the players centred on the filmic elements of the story rather than fiddling with controls. ‘We felt it was important to keep the significant complexity away from the player so that they could focus entirely on the character arcs that they we’re creating, their choices, and their story,’ he says. The game utilises a ‘butterfly effect’ system, allowing players to experience an entirely different narrative depending on the choices they make. Imagine going to see a film where the audience has the power to vote on, say, whether the protagonist should take the steeper, quicker path down the mountain, or play it safe and follow the long way down. Do you stand your ground and fight the serial killer edging towards you, or turn and run?”


"The price of 'The Girlfriend Experience' might be too high; it taxes one's dignity": A provocative review of the new Starz series from Mary McNamara at The Los Angeles Times.

“Like Showtime's ‘The Secret Diary of a Call Girl,’ ‘Girlfriend’ attempts to be ‘nonjudgmental,’ i.e. to show the bad with the good. Christine is initially shocked to learn that some folks in the sex trade are not to be trusted (seriously, how did this woman get into law school?) while others, including some of her clients, are just as sad and displaced as she apparently feels. For a while, the 13-episode season, which will begin streaming live on the Starz website and app even as it appears episodically on the network, seems mostly interested in presenting the logistics of Christine's new life — how do women juggle all that they do and still manage to look so great? Well, sometimes it's, you know, hard. Like a sex-trade Supergirl (down to the buttoned-down ‘disguise’ of messy bun and flats), she is a mild-mannered intern/increasingly borderline law student in one life while being an apparently wildly successful prostitute in another. Her charm appears to lie in her enigmatic amiability — the ‘girlfriend’ of the experience; certainly the sex, though frequent, is mostly fat-free vanilla. A sub-narrative emerges involving possible misdeeds at work (where Mary Lynn Rajskub is wasted as a potentially scheming patent attorney), but mostly the half-hour segments move in and out of often disjointed moments of Christine's escort-driven life at a pace that seems intentionally, and unforgivably, elliptical.”

Image of the Day

Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips investigates why the acclaimed film, "Krisha," vanished so quickly from theaters.

Video of the Day

Sterling K. Brown delivered an Emmy-worthy performance as prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden on the FX series, "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson." Here is footage of the real Darden declaring that the case "is a circus." 

Matt Fagerholm

Matt Fagerholm is the former Literary Editor at and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. 

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