BLUE MY MIND (Switzerland, dir. Lisa Brühlmann)
15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) has moved to a new town with her parents. School is tough enough without having to be the new kid, especially coming into a place where the social has long since been established. But Mia has more problems than just fitting in with the cool girls: Her body is undergoing bizarre changes she can’t explain and that no sex ed class ever talked about. Just as she begins to gain some acceptance with the popular girls in her class, Mia is forced to start finding ways to cover up the ever-expanding bruises on her body. Tensions are running high at home, too, with her parents expressing increasing frustration with Mia’s odd behavior while Mia struggles to understand her own feelings for new friend Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen). BLUE MY MIND takes a cue from a couple of recent Fantastic Fest alumni: Like Julia Ducournau’s RAW, it examines adolescent female relationships and burgeoning sexuality, and like Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s EVOLUTION, the film uses body horror imagery as a metaphor for adolescent transformation. That familiarity is not necessarily a problem, as BLUE MY MIND is considerably different from both of those films–not as gruesome as the former, and not as quiet and contemplative as the latter. Much of this film focuses on Mia’s day-to-day life and “normal” interactions like going to class, smoking outside school, hanging out at a friend’s house, and partying. The beats are familiar, but the story unfurls at its own pace. Some viewers may find that admirable, while others may just be frustrated. Regardless, this is an impressive debut feature from writer/director Lisa Brühlmann, and certainly marks her as a talent to watch.
BODIED (USA, dir. Joseph Kahn)
Adam (Calum Worthy) is a grad student working on a thesis about battle rap. He manages to introduce himself to one of his idols, Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), and before he knows it Adam is enlisted in Grymm’s crew. Adam quickly develops into a formidable rapper, much to the dismay of his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold), who is horrified by the homophobia, misogyny, and racism she sees as inherent to the art. His successful writer father (Anthony Michael Hall) is also none too happy about Adam’s pursuits, and when a video of Adam battling Korean rapper Prospek (Jonathan Park) with some racial slurs (although as Prospek observes: “At least you realized I’m Korean and not Chinese, that counts as cultural sensitivity in battle rap.”) the lines between Adam’s life and work begin to blur uncomfortably. Joseph Kahn’s BODIED is absolutely one of the best, most exhilarating movies of the year–there is nothing out there like this beast. It’s hilarious and cutting, deftly dealing with some seriously heavy material in a totally unexpected manner. The cast is spectacular across the board, and Worthy’s incredible performance is just the anchor for a hugely talented ensemble that includes actors and real battle rappers. The battle scenes are deliriously entertaining, packed with both astonishing wordplay and so much outright offense that the film is destined/doomed to raise hackles. It’s also unquestionably one of the most vital theatrical experiences of the year, not because it’s a visual spectacle but because its energy is contagious; it’s crucial to see this film with a crowd. As unbelievable as it seems, Joseph Kahn has provided a more than worthy follow-up his instant-classic DETENTION. BODIED is one for the history books.
GOOD MANNERS (Brazil, dir. Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas)
Pregnant, well-to-do Ana (Marjorie Estiano) lives alone in the apartment she shared with her ex, but she’s feeling overwhelmed. She hires struggling caretaker Clara (Isabél Zuaa) as a live-in assistant with the intent of keeping her on as a nanny after Ana gives birth. But Ana is having some unusual complications with her pregnancy that include wandering first her apartment and then the city during the full moon. As an undeniable attraction grows between the two women, will Clara be able to figure out what is happening to Ana before she harms herself or someone else? The scope of GOOD MANNERS is much wider than its claustrophobic first half would suggest, following through with its fantastical story set against the backdrop of people barely scraping by. The performances are excellent, and there are some amazing practical makeup and creature effects. As usual, the CGI effects in the film pale in comparison, but what really draws in the viewer are the characters and the sheer unpredictable nature of the story. GOOD MANNERS has a number of genuine surprises, and to say much more about it would be doing the film a grave disservice. Suffice to say it’s beautiful, gruesome, funny, and heartbreaking. This is one of the top genre films of the year, and one of the best films of the year regardless of genre.
WHEELMAN (USA, dir. Jeremy Rush)
It’s night in the city, and a Wheelman (Frank Grillo) is cruising while he waits for word on the iffy assignment he’s been given by his usually dependable associate Clayton (Garret Dillahunt). It smells wrong from the start, and when a mysterious handler calls the Wheelman with instructions that go completely against his instincts, it quickly becomes clear that this is going to be a long night. The vast majority of the action in WHEELMAN takes place inside the car, and Frank Grillo is the only person with on-screen dialogue through most of the movie. It’s something of a more crime/action-oriented take on LOCKE, Tom Hardy’s one man show in a car, but Grillo’s Wheelman and the characters he interacts with on the phone give it a completely different feel. Both films rely on a ticking clock device to generate tension, but here some of that is broken up with expertly choreographed car chase scenes. Grillo gives a stellar performance, beginning as steely and intense and desperately trying to hold onto those qualities as the situation spirals out of control around him. It’s great that Netflix virtually guarantees WHEELMAN will reach the wide audience it deserves, but it’s also kind of a disappointment that so few people will get to see the film on the big screen with a very loud sound system. The crazy chase scenes and crashes are really best experienced in a theatrical setting for maximum impact, but it’s still the central character and his relationships that make the film stand out.
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