Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | People People (2019)
One of my favorite underappreciated actors is Natalie Walker. She is best known for making hilarious Twitter videos of her “auditioning” to play stereotypical female characters, but she is also a sharp-witted journalist and fantastic actor. I checked out her new feature film People People on Vimeo because of her, and I’m glad that I did.
People People tells the story of Kat. Kat has a popular YouTube account and lives in a luxurious apartment. But we come to learn that her mental health issues have led her to develop agoraphobia, and she has not left her apartment in two years. But a romance with Colin, a confident delivery guy, and her sister’s impending wedding lead Kat to decide whether she is going to come out of her apartment and face her issues.
Walker is excellent as Kat. She captures the charm and humor that endear her to her followers, as well as the insecurities that hinder her efforts to live her life to the fullest. She adds complexities to Kat with just a tilt of her head, or an odd expression of childlike joy when describing her realization that she didn’t have to leave her apartment. It’s a powerhouse performance of a character who is utterly unlike the underwritten roles whom Walker loves to parody.
This movie is the micro-budget first film of writer/director Lizzie Logan. Logan’s dialogue is great, and features fantastic allusions to pop culture that slyly comments on her characters. (My favorite was Kat’s love for Kiki’s Delivery Service, even though her agoraphobia makes her the opposite of the adventurous Kiki.) From a visual standpoint there are some interesting motifs — namely a lot of visual bars in the sequences set at Kat’s apartment that make you feel like she is imprisoned.
People People loses some tension and focus when it leaves Kat’s apartment, and some of the music in the beginning felt a little jarring. But it’s still a well-done portrait of millennial life and anxiety that is worth watching. Plus it serves as evidence that Walker’s career blow-up isn’t a question of “if,” but “when.”
Trailer can be found here.
Caleb Allison, contributor | Apollo 11 (2019)
Back in November of 2018 I wrote about Damien Chazelle’s bracingly intimate First Man (2018) for the Monthly Movie Round-Up, which chronicled Neil Armstrong’s historic 1969 space mission. I loved it, every bit of it. The film deftly wavers between bone-rattling flight sequences and emotional family dynamics with awe-inspiring sound design.
So when I heard about the Apollo 11 (2019) documentary, written, edited, and produced by Todd Douglas Miller, I had to see it. Using largely unseen and beautifully restored archival footage of the space mission Miller offers a singular vision of the technical achievement of Apollo 11. His approach is populated with the most iconic moments we’re all familiar with but shows us what had to come before and after them to make it happen. He lets the camera run, so to speak. We get to see the nuts and bolts of the space program, the faces of bystanders and engineers, the vast rows of equipment, the endless communications, and the sheer technical labor that made those iconic moments possible.
One of my favorite scenes in the film happens when one of those familiar iconic shots lingers past its familiarity and into abstract art. An onboard camera recording the jettisoning of rockets on Apollo 11’s ascent shifts from a technical feat of engineering and design to a kind of existential questioning when held long enough. It is a beautiful dance back and forth throughout the film I’m sure we can attribute to Miller’s editing credit. I don’t think I could recommend a better double-bill than First Man and Apollo 11 right now. You might even say they fit together better than the lunar module does to the command module of Apollo 11, but only around friends you trust implicitly with such a cheesy comment.
Jack Miller, contributor | October (1928) and The Shooting (1966)
The two most exciting films that I saw this month were made nearly forty years apart, in different countries and under wildly different socioeconomic circumstances, but were similar to one another in that they both altered the way that I think about film editing. Sergei Eisenstein’s October (Ten Days That Shook the World) (1928) is a Soviet silent film made with a mammoth budget and hundreds of extras under state supervision, in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1966) is an American independent “acid western,” made with a budget of $75,000 and a cast of only four principal actors. Both of these films, in their own idiosyncratic ways, reject the “invisible editing” practices and conventional storytelling language of classical Hollywood.
October represents the splashless peak of a theoretical montage aesthetic that Eisenstein himself helped to formulate. This abstract and quasi-mathematical formalism is essentially characterized by the notion that two or more images, when juxtaposed together rapidly through film cutting, can create another distinct image or idea that is not present in either of the parts or frames on their own. This extreme approach to film aesthetics carries a kind of inherent political undercurrent in that it rejects the so-called “bourgeois illusionism” of classical Hollywood films which often try to mask editing practices so that we can absorb the narrative without having to think about cutting. This film pushes these cuts to their philosophical limit, often asking the viewer to question the filmmaker’s creative choices in cutting between scenes of collective radicalism and inanimate objects (statues, masks, jewelry) that function as signifiers of the old-world, czarist regime.
The Shooting is also a film that makes us aware of form in very provocative ways, but rather than being part of a collectivist political project, the cutting here seems to be at the service of establishing strange rhythms which disrupt the narrative progression of the film. Like Hellman’s later film Two-Lane Blacktop (which screens at the IU Cinema on April 14), this is essentially a landscape film in which a group of people and a singular loner traverse a stretch of physical space separately in search of an existential destination. As the journey progresses, one gets the sense that the narrative is gradually dissolving as the editing becomes increasingly jarring and experimental. Both of these works ask us to consider the ways that films are ordered and structured in ways that I find fascinating and edifying.
Trailers unavailable for both films.
David Carter, contributor | The Beach Bum (2019)
I had the distinct honor of doing press coverage for SXSW this year on behalf of the IU Cinema and it was a hell of a ride, a veritable smorgasbord of film, music and meeting new people. I knew going in that there were two premieres I would happily wait in line for hours to see on the big screen and crowd pulsing with energy. One was Jordan Peele’s Us (which I wrote a review of here); the other was from my favorite crust punk auteur Harmony Korine and his film The Beach Bum. Folks, I don’t say this lightly, but this may be in my personal top 100 or at least 200 films of all time.
This film is about a fictional folk hero-esque man named Moondog played by final-form, level-100, boss-mode Matthew McConaughey (seriously, I don’t think there’s a better role for this man in existence). Moondog is a poet, a philanderer, a drinker, and a druggie and the world loves him for it. He wastes his days away indulging his vices and hanging with his equally colorful friends all while slowly and lazily clicking out his next collection of poetry. Think Hunter S. Thompson as envisioned by Jimmy Buffett. One day tragedy invades Moondog’s seemingly impenetrable bubble of good vibes and he has no choice but to finally dig down inside himself and finish the book he’s been half-heartedly working on for years.
Everything I just described makes this movie seem like it’s this dramedy about finding oneself but that is 100% not this movie’s game. Moondog and everybody else in this film have no growing to do. All they wanna do is live the dream of a consequence-free life and they do just that. If I had to compare this to anything it would be a Rodney Dangerfield flick, a movie about a lush and the hi-jinks he gets into under the pretense of “changing his ways.” It’s pretty much wall-to-wall debauchery and faux philosophical musings about the nature of creativity. However, the movie fits right in with Korine’s other films, which to me are films distinctly about America and the people who live on its fringes. Usually, his films would explore those fringes in some dark and transgressive way (watch Trash Humpers and Gummo for primo examples of this), but The Beach Bum is in many ways the most positive movie he’s ever made. It’s only transgressive in how the film chooses never to let up on its conceit of the dream of a consequence-free lifestyle. I’d talk about why it fits into the canon of great films about the American dream, but honestly this is something you should rush out and see when it drops on March 29th. Martin Lawrence and Zac Efron in JNCO jeans will be waiting for you.
Note: trailer contains drug use and language.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Wow. This is one film that lives up to its hype. U.S. commercial animation has historically had a tendency toward homogeneity. When studios find a style and a production pipeline that seems to work, they stick with it, which lends itself to a consistent aesthetic between films in any given era. This aesthetic may be attractive — for example, Pixar’s films are beautifully designed — but in a medium where one can literally do anything, seeing the same character shapes and design principles in film after film gets a bit boring.
This makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse feel like a revelation. The production team combined 3D and 2D animation techniques in an attempt to fuse a comic book aesthetic with modern, 3D movement opportunities. The result is often breathtaking, particularly during the climactic fight sequence in the supercollider, where the backgrounds reminded me of the abstract beauty in recent works by Don Hertzfeldt. It’s a movie I’m eager to watch again.
If you want to dig into the animation choices more, the film’s animators created their own commentary track, available to stream or download at On Animation.