American Murder: The Family Next Door, On Netflix, Is A Scathing Portrayal Of Our Social Media Projections

Originally appeared in Film Companion.

Note: This is a review of a documentary based on a real crime. If you are unaware of the subject matter and haven’t seen the trailer, do not read this review or anything related to the film. The film offers an enhanced viewing experience when seen with no prior knowledge of the subject matter.

The Social Dilemma, a recent Netflix documentary,examined how social media platforms are designed to transcend the virtual actions into the real world consequences, by influencing our choices. American Murder: The Family Next Door countermands this idea by reconstructing events, which seemed all hunky-dory on social media, but which metamorphosed into harrowing tragedy in reality.

Over the years, social media has seamlessly become an integral part of our lives. While The Social Dilemma answered the ‘why’ and ‘how’, American Murder acts as a case study, offering a new perspective, and is exponentially more humane and distressing than the former owing to the sheer darkness of the subject matter. As our reliance on social media becomes more intrinsic with each update, aspects like how much of our ‘self’ we project onto the social media and the light in which we portray our personality have remained a subject of debate, both on an individual and broader level. This documentary allows you to figure out the conclusion for yourself…

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Totally Under Control Review: Timely and Timeless

The obligation while reviewing documentaries that has always challenged and fascinated me is to create a clear distinction between the film’s subject matter and filmmaking craft. Totally Under Control is no exception, and is, perhaps, a bigger challenge as compared to other documentaries ascribed to its germane nature with which it addresses the prevailing COVID-19 situation.

One certainly cannot – and should not – overlook its relevance. After all, the film’s fundamental motive is evolving as you read this. Probably the most felicitous film you can get your hands on at the present, Totally Under Control is a conscientiously infuriating and trepidatious documentation of a colossal failure. Set amid the raging pandemic, i.e. the present, the film brings the facts pertaining to what went wrong through experts such medical professionals, scientists, government officials, and journalists, among other professionals who remain feeble witnesses, watching the flagrant power at play that scorns the menace of COVID-19.

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Possessor: Layered with Terror

Originally appeared in Cinema Sentries.

When someone asks me what a film is about, I’m often puzzled whether to share the synopsis of the film, or tell what the film is actually about. Take the case of Parasite, for instance. It’s the story of a poor family infiltrating a rich family to make money. What is it actually about, though? The persistent, wide gap between classes in a capitalist world. A layered screenplay bestows such depth, the duality, or what we call, subtext. Ignore the subtext, you still have a coherent film. 

Likewise, I can surely tell the story of Brandon Cronenberg’s sophomore effort, Possessor. It follows Tasya (Andrea Riseborough), an assassin working for a vague tech-based corporation that uses brain-implantation as a medium to take control over people’s bodies and murder the target through the possessed. On one such job, which should be no different from any of her earlier assassinations, she is stuck in the body of the person, Colin (Christopher Abbott), she is currently possessing. There you have the plot and conflict. However, it’s certainly not your conventional body horror, since it thrives on ambiguity. Unlike other films, it’s hard to discern what the film is about. It’s more about the experience – which will stick in my mind – than the logical dissection. 

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I AM WOMAN: Woman’s Voice in a Man’s World

Originally appeared in Film Inquiry

Emma Jensen’s screenplay spares no time in setting the rules of I Am Woman, directed by Unjoo MoonFree of the childhood, teenage, and first broken relationship, the film directly begins with Helen Reddy (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) walking through a subway holding her 3-year old daughter, Tracy. Dressed in rosewood, a feminal color, while most men in black pass by, she walks up the stairs of the subway and emerges out of the dark interior. In the subway, we even catch sight of a ketchup advertisement that quotes the cartoon of a smiling lady flaunting a bottle, “Even I can open it” while the tagline reads “All new easy-open bottles”, pointing at the physical delicacy of women. Till now, it’s been less than a minute since we saw the first shot of the film and it has already captured the woman in a man’s world abstraction that the film entirely backs on. It speaks measures about the film’s politics, some directly, some implied, but the ideology is clear as a crystal from the word go.

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Chemical Hearts: Teenage-romance Turns Contemplative

Originally appeared in Cinema Sentries.

Three minutes into Chemical Hearts, you understand that the film is twisting the teenage-romance genre. It places teenage characters in dramatic situations, in which death and PTSD complicate things, while characters remain teenagers grappling with the difference between objective reality and subjective reality. To call Chemical Hearts pretentious would be untrue, but it could have easily fallen into the trap of flatulent intelligence in the pretext of depth. That doesn’t happen, thanks to the way these characters are set-up; sophisticated yet utterly simple. For instance, when Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) explains her understanding of life and death – drawing an analogy between life and chemistry – to Henry Page (Austin Abrams), the latter’s response is “Are you suicidal?”. 

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Coup 53: Transmutes Intricacy into Intrigue

Originally appeared in Cinema Sentries.

The facet of documentary filmmaking that excites me most is the aftermath of the release. Documentaries affect the real world and real people; wider the subject matter, wider the impact. On this premise, I’m certain that Coup 53 will have a profound impact on an entire generation of Iran, offering a bit of closure to some, and furthers the existing material pertaining to the Iranian coup d’état, while also instigating a sense of treachery they’ve been subjected to 67 years ago.

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Most Wanted: A Middling Crime Drama with Identity Crisis

Orginially Published in Cinema Sentries.

Daniel Roby’s Most Wanted (also known as Target Number One) begins with Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon) a troubled young man, receiving his first paycheque as a lumberjack. It’s a cheque, remember. Moments later, we see him talking over the phone with his mother, who is clearly suspicious of him when he asks her credit card number citing he doesn’t have money at the moment. Convinced that he’d use the credit card to buy drugs, his mother hangs upon him. With no money at his disposal, he takes off on his bike without paying i.e. robbing the store. These two scenes elucidate Léger’s only two character attributes – a troubled lonely man and a small-time crook – which persist through the film switching from one to the other. In the next scene, we meet Victor Malarek, a real-life journalist on whose investigation the screenplay is woven around, played by Josh Hartnett, spreading Brad Pitt vibes.

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Colour Me Brown: Tiny Film With Abundant Heart

Originally Appeared in Film Inquiry

I adored Colour Me Brown by Juggy Sohal for multiple reasons, with the major one being how simple yet powerful it is. While the film could be termed yet another YouTube video, the heart succors this in getting rid of the label. Speaking about one’s race and the associated complications of being different, the short is a personal, self-reflective, if not deep, a conversation between a UK-born Indian (voiced by Sohal) and his therapist (played by Parvinder Shergill). 

Minimalistic Nature

This tiny film is yet another proving instance of how cinema, the marriage of audio and visuals, remains the most potent story-telling medium. Minimalistic in nature, the script of the film, which heavily relies on voice narration could have been a heart-felt essay or a thread of tweets for that matter. But Sohal’s choice of going for an audio-visual medium to share the same story enhances the impact to a great extent. I don’t mean essays lack the power or heart, but the visual medium is more direct and allows the creator to precisely channel his vision, unlike words that hinge on the reader’s imagination. In a film, though, we see and hear what the filmmaker wants us to. 

COLOUR ME BROWN: Tiny Film With Abundant Heart
source: Juggy Sohal

Visuals Overs Words

Like in the film, when Sohal tells his therapist how he was called a black banana in school, for being the only brown-kid, we actually see a banana tainted in black falling on a road. Moments later, as he tells his self-confidence took a severe beating due to the remark, we see the banana being crushed by a car. It’s not subtle, but it hits the point home. Structured as a virtual therapy session, I found it smart to have a therapist listening to the narrator’s contemplation for two reasons. One, it adds a narrative layer to what could have been a straight-forward experience-sharing to the viewer. Two, it hints at the long-term consequences of such childhood memories. It’s surprising how much the film packs in less than three minutes, from accepting one’s own identity although most of them are only touched upon. If I have an issue with the film, that has to be the title animation, which kind of confines it to the Youtube video zone for the time being. 

COLOUR ME BROWN: Tiny Film With Abundant Heart
source: Juggy Sohal

Conclusion

Colour Me Brown archives what the creator set out to do: To share his personal story and map it on a broader scale. While it may not be path-breaking to the form, it will surely inspire many more people to tell their own stories through the audio-visual medium.

GATHER IN THE CORNER: Balances Storytelling and Commentary

Originally appeared in Film Inquiry.

Shot as a documentary, a convivial, middle-aged Bill Cooper (Jeff Zornes) gives us a tour of his standard American home in the opening scene of Gather in the Corner. He takes us through the living area where he claims to spend a lot of time watching TV, the dining area, and the kitchen, where he introduces ceramic chicken collection and mugs with designs of chicken imprinted on them. “I kinda like chickens,” he says.

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Lost Bullet: Too Relentless to Feel Humdrum

Originally appeared in Film Inquiry.

One seldom comes across a 90-minute film suffused with continual action, car chases, fistfights, gunshots, and every other action-genre troupe, and yet feel lethargic. The French-language Netflix original Lost Bullet pulls off this onerous task and even manages to put off our interest within the compact time frame despite fitting all the aforementioned facets. It’s probably because these facets feel forcedly appended rather than coming off as requisites to the script. They’re more of a garnish than the main ingredient, and it’s a film that relies on the garnish to embellish the final film while ignoring a very basic necessity: a coherent script. The action and the garnish do bolster to an extent, though, if not completely alleviate the issue caused by the absence of strong writing….continue reading here.