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            We expect friends to have a common interest, but it's unusual when that common interest is a boy who is one girl's ex, and the other's current boyfriend. In "Banana Split," now available on demand and digital, co-writer Hannah Marks stars as April, who broke up with her boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse) and then gets jealous when he almost-immediately starts dating the new girl in town, Clara (Liana Liberato). But her best intentions to hate her new rival are thwarted when Clara turns out to be pretty wonderful. So, they decide not to let Nick know they are friends. 

            In an interview with, Marks spoke about creating dialogue that is "not too quippy," the technical and dramatic benefits of characters who text each other, and what she's watching while avoiding the coronavirus.

            Your characters communicate by text a lot, typical of teenagers. But for you both as a writer and as an actress, what kind of additional opportunities and challenges are there in showing texting on screen?

            I think this is a more technical answer than you were looking for, but the beauty of having texting in movies is that it allows you to manipulate the story in post-production. So when you’re editing, if there’s a plotline or something that isn’t working or landing or becoming clear to people, you have the chance to manipulate it so easily, because you can just change what’s on the phone. That’s something that’s really beautiful and helpful as a filmmaker, getting that extra freedom to tweak the story. And then, as an actor, it’s just the reality of how we live our lives now, so much of it via texting, or the phone, or Instagram. It’s just impossible to avoid or be able to tell especially a teenage story, honestly and accurately. You can’t really do it without these tools, because that’s what kids are really using.

            What is easier to say in a text than it would be to say in person?

            Oh gosh, anything that has any kind of meaning or weight. Anything worth saying is probably easier to say over text.

            And any wait for a response is more agonizing over text.

            Oh yeah, there’s nothing worse than seeing those dot dot dots appear.

            What is so delightful about the movie is that it’s about the friendship of the two girls, and the boy is almost incidental. How do you create that remarkable instant chemistry between the characters?

            Well thankfully, Liana Liberato and I have been friends since we were little, little girls. I mean, I met her when I was 11 and she was 9. So that chemistry hopefully seemed real, because it was real! We’ve known and loved each other for a long time and it was always a dream of ours to get to work together, so it was really just about having fun together and getting to experience it, and hoping that that translated to the audience. 

            The music in the film is exceptionally well chosen. Were you involved in that?

            I definitely made a ton of playlists, but I don’t think I can take credit for that. That was all [director] Ben Kasulke, who is a big music lover, and used a lot of his Seattle friends and Portland friends. That’s where he’s from, so he used a lot of local bands that he knew and loved, and I think he did a really great job with it.  


            He did! Is there a song from the soundtrack that particularly resonates with you?

            When we’re hiking together, there's a song called "Crimson Wave" by Tacocat that is about periods. And I remember thinking it was so cool that our male director picked a menstrual song for that part of the movie. And then also of course, “Bling Bling Bitch” was a song that Liana and I had chosen from a list of songs that we could get the rights to for that rapping scene. We both immediately gravitated towards that song, and it was so much easier to memorize because it’s basically just “bling bling bitch” over and over!

            In what ways do being a writer and being an actor inform each other? What have you learned about writing from acting, and learned about acting from writing?

            When you’re writing something that you’re acting in, you know the story so well, and you know the intention of every line. Whereas when you’re an actor using someone else’s material, you have to make a lot of decisions on what the intentions were behind the lines, which you don’t always get to know, because you don’t always know the writer. So it was really exciting to get to do scenes where I knew why every line was on the page, and I could then best inform my performance around what the story needed. And then being an actor definitely helps my writing in every way because I’m so used to reading a million scripts and memorizing dialogue, that it really helps the dialogue part of screenwriting come naturally. 

            The dialogue, especially between April and Clara, is very witty, very sharp, and—this is a compliment—the rhythms of it had a 1930s movie feel. Do you watch old movies, and is that an influence on you?

            Yeah, I watch everything, everything I can get my hands on. Anything that looks appealing to me, I watch it! Joey Power and I wrote it together, and we were always riding that line of not wanting it to be too quippy. We want it to be funny and quick and clever enough to be a movie, but not so quippy that it feels like you’re not in reality. And there’s some movies that do that fantastically, like any Diablo Cody movie. They’re so sharp and so wonderful, but that wasn’t really our style. So we were trying to create a balancing act. Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach do it really really well, their characters are so sharp, but also kind of a mess. 


            I liked your film "After Everything," very much. Would you say there’s a through line to the stories you like to tell, an issue or a situation that continues to appeal to you?

            Definitely! I didn’t necessarily think there was a thread in the projects I was making, and then I looked back and realized there totally is. I really am fascinated by temporary love and temporary relationships, so really everything I’ve made so far as a filmmaker—not as an actor—has been about a relationship that was really meaningful for a certain period of time, and then just because it doesn’t last forever doesn’t mean it didn’t impact who you are as a person. So that’s really been the unintentional thread of the projects that I’ve made.

            Are female friendships particularly interesting for you to explore?

            Definitely, especially at the time when we were writing it. This was before "Booksmart," before a lot of these great movies came out, because it was a long journey to getting the project made. So it felt like there weren’t very many at the time, but now thankfully there are a lot of great stories. A huge inspiration was "Frances Ha," speaking of Greta Gerwig. That was one that I think really nailed the female friendship. 

            And what are you doing next?

            I just made a movie called "Mark, Mary, and Some Other People," which I wrote, directed, and produced, but I did not act in it. That was a super exhilarating and fun experience. We just wrapped that last month. And I’m adapting a children’s book series, I’m acting, I’m doing a lot of stuff right now, thankfully. I like to stay busy!

            What are you doing to take care of yourself during the era of the virus shutdowns? 

            It’s forcing me to take a break, which is nice. I can’t edit my movie right now because of what’s going on, but in a way that’s good, because it gives me some time away from it to have outside perspective. So I’m really just playing with my dogs, hanging out with my boyfriend. We’re staying inside, we haven't left the house in over a week. We’re binging shows. It’s nice to just be with each other.

            While you’re home binging, is there any one thing that you want to recommend?

            Oh my god, yeah. I just watched "Tiger King" yesterday, I watched the whole thing in one sitting. It’s a new true-crime doc series on Netflix. It’s about the big cat industry, and all the characters in that industry. People that privately own tigers and lions. It’s insane, the crimes that went down, and these crazy, twisted stories that you’ve never heard of. Definitely recommend watching it, it’s super addicting!

            By: Nell Minow
            Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:11 pm

          • image

            After previously discussing the short films of Bong Joon-Ho, Alma Har’el, Céline Sciamma, and the Safdies, this new batch of early shorts comes from the minds of new Oscar winners and should-be nominees. These directors have burst onto the scene in the last five years with feature debuts or follow-ups that were adored audiences and critics alike. Barry Jenkins and Taika Waititi won Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Moonlight” and “Jojo Rabbit,” respectively, while Lulu Wang"s "The Farewell" and Mati Diop's "Atlantics" put the directors firmly into people’s minds with their own cultural touchstone stories. 

            From student films to initial successes, all of these directors followed a different, winding road to rise from obscurity to independent notoriety. By and large, these directors write and direct stories that affect important swaths of society, millions of people that look to film to laugh, cry, and see themselves represented. When you trace these filmmakers’ shorts to their most recent features, you find similarities and early indications that each of them has a knack for crafting stories that matter. 

            Barry Jenkins: from “My Josephine” (2003) to “If Beale Street Could Talk”

            After winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture Oscars for “Moonlight,” Jenkins made “If Beale Street Could Talk,” earning him another Oscar nomination, and one his actors another win (Regina King for Best Supporting Actress). His distinct style of making resonant films with unseen stories (and underrepresented characters) has created a loyal fan base in the extended film community. Jenkins’s first short, “My Josephine,” continues this stylized intimacy often found in his features. Made in college at Florida State, Jenkins’s short also features his first collaboration with cinematographer James Laxton, who went on to shoot both “Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” 

            “My Josephine” centers on Aadid (Basel Hamdan), a young man working in a local laundromat post-9/11. Released in 2003, the nine-minute short explores Aadid’s relationship to his co-worker, Adela (Saba Shariat), as he compares her to Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife Josephine. Colored to perfection with hues of green and blue, Jenkins’s first definitive stab at filmmaking relies less on story or plot, and more on intimacy. The student short features an effective time-lapse, absorbing yet simple visuals, and the same brand of closeness we associate with the Oscar-winning director. 

            The driving force of the film is Aadid’s love for Adela, as they wash and fold American flags each night, a free practice they began some time ago. Jenkins uses voiceover from his protagonist to explain his feelings and his would-be partner, talking only when it’s necessary, and leaving bunches of soundless time. “My Josephine” even has the signature Jenkins character-looking-through-the-camera shot, a visual staple that bounds him to the understanding and personal nature of love. And that remains the key to “My Josephine” and to Jenkins’ movies: a harmonious way of portraying love in simple terms for complex people. 

            Lulu Wang: from “Touch” (2015) to “The Farewell”

            Lulu Wang's second feature “The Farewell” brought the writer/director to prominence in 2019, winning her an Independent Spirit Award, and being snubbed in most’s eyes by the Academy. Her film portrayed an incredible clash of cultures, as a Chinese-American family grappled with the handling of a matriarch’s diagnosis. “The Farewell” is so strong because it explains the intergenerational divide among families, especially among immigrant fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and grandparents. Wang’s movie gave her a chance to showcase her ability to craft narrative features from true stories, splicing together a piece of art that packs an emotional punch while asking questions of how we handle illness, death, and familial decisions. 

            Her 2015 short “Touch” explores similar concepts. Produced through Film Independent's Project Involve, "Touch" made the festival circuit and established her careful direction as a filmmaker to watch. “Touch” follows an elderly Asian man (Ben Lin) after he touches a young American boy in the restroom, due to cultural confusion and misunderstanding. Again, Wang explores the clashing of two cultures, Taiwanese and American ideals in how we talk, touch, and care for children. Focusing on the aftermath of this event, including the impending arrest and trial, “Touch” looks at the relationship between this older man and his son (Joshua Chang), the latter feeling shame for what the former has done. 

            Wang asks many questions of her audience both in “Touch” and “The Farewell” about how we act and respond as a society. She looks at the difference in opinion between us and our fathers, us and our sons. Though controversial and difficult to watch, “Touch” is based on fact, not fiction. Like “The Farewell,” it's a true story that hits with another level of impact knowing that this man, and his lack of guile, ended in a guilty verdict. “Touch” works as a fascinating short on its own, with a solid cast, gorgeous visuals, and a script that mirrors real life in all of its innocence, tragedy, shame and miscommunication. 

            Taika Waititi: from “Two Cars, One Night” (2004) to “Jojo Rabbit”

            New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi has traversed the fine line between big budget action movies (like "Thor: Ragnarok") and smaller independent comedies, all the while increasing his visibility and likability as an actor. He teeters between auteur and comic book director, garnering a level of support in whichever genre he pleases. Though his latest film “Jojo Rabbit” resulted in more controversy than acclaim from every critics group, the stab at satire showed that Waititi can drive people to the theater. 

            Waititi’s first professional attempt at film comes in the form of “Two Cars, One Night,” a 12-minute, black-and-white short focused on two cars parked in front of a local hotel bar. The drivers are gone, and all that’s left are the young kids that were originally sitting in the backseat, two boys in one and a girl in the other. The short once again follows Waititi’s recent pattern of youth comedies, with the likes of the wonderful “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” This short ran through the festival circuit, winning awards around the world, and even earning Waititi an Academy Award nomination at the 2005 Oscars for Best Short Film, Live Action. 

            The short, which also features a healthy dose of time-lapses, focuses on the older boy and the girl, who start talking while sitting in their respective vehicles. It’s funny, sweet, and simple. The wit seen in Waititi’s later scripts is evident here, and you can see his infatuation with the pangs and loves of childhood. Starting off with the two kids flipping each other off, they then end up sitting in her car, talking about her plastic diamond ring and giving the smallest, softest smiles you can possibly give. “Two Cars, One Night” grows on you, much like the kids in the film, who play their parts with a sense of realism that’s hard to match. It feels like you’re watching (or remembering) one of your own memories, or seeing your friends’ kids, or even your own kids trying their hardest to flirt, to be cool, and ultimately to be sweet. 

            “Two Cars, One Night” deserves as much recognition as some of Waititi’s later works. Though it doesn’t have the same visuals as “Jojo Rabbit” or “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” it has a tone of genuine joy combined with juvenile innocence, and it shows that Waititi writes about large ideas and for wide audiences. 

            Mati Diop: from “Snow Canon” (2011) to “Atlantics”

            The French-Senagalese director Mati Diop stunned audiences and critics with her future debut “Atlantics” in 2019, winning the Grand Prix prize at Cannes and ending up on President Barack Obama’s favorite movies of the year list. Diop began her career with a performance in fellow French filmmaker Claire Denis’s “35 Shots of Rum” in 2008, followed by a documentary short “Atlantiques.” Her first initial journey into fiction rests with “Snow Canon,” a 34-minute short set in the French Alps. 

            “Snow Canon” has two characters, the younger and forgtotten Vanina (Nilaya Bal) and her American babysitter/housekeeper Mary Jane (Nour Mobarak). A quiet, meditative film about love, seduction, and sexuality, “Snow Canon” never feels rushed nor slow. Each scene builds to a non-climactic ending, one that’s rooted by a shifting power dynamic and a sense of isolation. The two women are stuck with one another, with Vanina being left by her parents, then by babysitter after babysitter, including Mary Jane at the end of the film. Though “Atlantics” relies more on mystery and folklore, both of these Diop-directed films focus on those left behind, those with nowhere to go. 

            Diop remains a master at directing body language and facial expressions, conveying a high amount of emotions, specifically empathy, in the characters of her works. The relationship in “Snow Canon” evolves into one of significance, not through long conversations or heart-to-hearts, instead due to physical touch, hidden glances, and meetings of the eyes. Nominated for the Queer Lion at the Venice Film Festival, “Snow Canon” represents the maturity Diop possessed as a filmmaker even with her first projects. While she flashes the ocean as a mystical creature in “Atlantics,” the Alps mountain ranges carry a similar, if not smaller, significance in “Snow Canon.” The peaks, and the accompanying caves, always watch the moments of everyday life, existing in the background but never unnoticeable. A comparison could be made to Céline Sciamma’s “Water Lilies” or even “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” as Diop’s short features the impulses and true awakening of those in the midst of loneliness. It serves as a warm welcome for Mati Diop as one of our finest filmmakers, a storyteller who gives us reason to be excited for future projects. 

            Here’s a clip from "Snow Canon": 

            "Snow Canon" and Mati Diop’s other shorts are available on the Criterion Channel with a paid subscription.

            By: Michael Frank
            Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:10 pm

            • Entertainer
              Entertainer published a blog post Uncorked


              Whether it’s a major character like in “Book Club” or a passion to be followed like in “A Good Year” or “Sideways,” wine isn’t often portrayed in American cinema as an integral part of the black experience. In his good-natured feature debut “Uncorked,” writer/director Prentice Penny (“Insecure,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) sets out to challenge and change these optics, braiding a formulaic father-and-son tale with a gifted African-American sommelier-to-be’s pursuit of his advanced palate. That scheme alone sets “Uncorked” apart from the typical “wine movie,” admittedly in short supply already. The filmmaker doesn’t really steer clear of box-ticking clichés—a tendency that often dents various Netflix-helmed movies such as “Always Be My Maybe.” But Penny still manages to put the tried-and-true template of a tale pitched between family tradition and individualism in new context, delivering something closer to a satisfying, everyday table wine than a rare, award-winning bottle.

              Most of the film’s rewarding spirit is supplied by its lead Mamoudou Athie (“Underwater,” “The Circle”) in the role of the wine-enthusiast Elijah who dedicatedly works at a liquor store in Memphis. The film’s vigorous (and by all means, mouth-watering) opening sequence economically represents the world in which he dwells through a bit of slick editing—on one hand, there is the BBQ joint ran by his father, Louis (a coolly authoritative Courtney B. Vance), and on the other, there are the velvety pours Elijah sells and studies with enthusiasm while dreaming of becoming a master sommelier one day. That opening is followed by an equally endearing scene, in which Elijah spots a new customer, Tanya (Sasha Compère), and guides the inexperienced but curious drinker towards something that would align with her taste in hip-hop. “A Pinot Grigio is like Kanye West,” he suggests. Then he likens a Chardonnay, “the granddaddy of wines,” to Jay-Z and a Riesling to Drake. Tanya goes with Drake, upon which a sweet romance with palpable chemistry blooms between her and Elijah.

              Meanwhile Elijah’s future, at least in his father’s eyes, seems to be decided upon—he would one day take over the family restaurant just like his father did back in the day, when it was run by the family patriarch. But things take a different turn when the young man finally decides to register for a course to tackle the impossible-to-pass sommelier exam. Two supporting characters—Matt McGorry’s initially arrogant but ultimately well-meaning “Harvard” (because, well, he went to Harvard, as he often brags about) and Gil Ozeri’s adorably awkward, often insecure Richie—furnish the film with much welcome notes of comedy. Elsewhere, Penny tries to do his best with keeping Tanya as well as Elijah’s supportive mom Sylvia (a fabulous Niecy Nash) relevant to the core of the story. Sadly, his efforts don’t always land—one labored, rushed-through plotline involving cancer especially drags down the film’s energy while failing to sell some bare-minimum teary emotions.

              Still, this is the story of Elijah and Louis, and Penny mostly succeeds on those grounds, demonstrating his tightest grip on the narrative when he focuses on the similar pride that drives both men. For Elijah, that pride seems to be split evenly between his career obsession and parental respect, evident both when he strolls through the streets of Paris—a course-mandated excursion he embarks upon, thanks to his caring family’s generous backing—and when he works at his dad’s BBQ restaurant. And for Louis, that pride resides in familial legacy and love. Gradually, it becomes clear that Penny is more interested in what unites the two (they are both meticulous in their professions, for instance) rather than what sets them apart, forging the way to a conclusion of genuine, mutual acceptance, without abandoning the challenges they face even in a post-Obama world that many falsely consider to be post-racial. In the days where we’re all cooped up at home, there are certainly worse things you could do than settling in front of this pleasant film and its upbeat musical tracks (original music by Hit Boy) with a positive attitude and a smooth bottle of wine. It will go down easy. 

              Available on Netflix today, 3/27.

              By: Tomris Laffly
              Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:12 pm

              • Entertainer


                The celebrity-driven documentary is a tricky one. It’s obvious that these famous faces want to talk about something they’re passionate about—they may even have talked about their cause célèbre on a talk show or shared countless links on social media. But when they take the extra step of making a movie about this issue, the challenge for them is not to steal the spotlight from the subject. 

                That’s the tension that plays out throughout “There’s Something in the Water,” an environmental documentary from Ellen Page and her “Gaycation” collaborator Ian Daniel. The movie is inextricable from Page, who uses her own experiences as a means to personalize the subject. However, her constant presence raises the question if she were not in front of the camera, would this documentary have any chance of finding an audience? Will her message be heard if she isn’t always in front of the camera?

                To set the scene, Page and Daniel use her childhood home of Nova Scotia as an example to look at the human cost of environmental racism, or when marginalized communities suffer because corporations dump or release their toxic wastes in their neighborhoods. Or, as Dr. Ingrid Waldron, whose book inspired Page and this movie, explains, it’s when “your postal code determines your health.” Page revisits her happy childhood hometown of Halifax and her pride in Canada’s embrace of universal healthcare, LGBTQ rights and legalized marijuana, but admits that not all is well in our neighbors to the north. 

                After a quick primer on how corrupt politicians and corporations are still benefitting from the suffering of Black and Indigenous people, Page and Daniel hop in a car and take viewers through three different towns in Nova Scotia to see the fallout for themselves. In Shelburne, they meet local activist Louise Delisle who says a toxic landfill has caused a spike in cancer in her community, where many people die before their time. It’s just 20 minutes from Page’s hometown. Driving around Shelburne, Delisle points out the homes where people have died or are dying of cancer. The landfill has been decommissioned for years, but still its damage continues. Next is Pictou Landing, where Michelle Francis-Denny recounts the harrowing story of how paper mill lied to tribal elders, her grandfather included, and poisoned their local harbor. Tearfully, she leads the cameras to where the plant has continually pumped toxic waste since 1967. It’s a devastating scene of an unnatural water treatment facility that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie—it certainly doesn’t look like anything you’d like to drink. Finally, there’s a stop at the town of Stewiacke, where tribal water protectors are standing up to Alton Gas’ plan to poison its sacred river. They confront politicians like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil with little support in return, and it’s almost always the same dismaying results time after time. 

                The directors use their subjects’ backstories to show what these devastated places were like before a landfill poisoned a Black neighborhood’s drinking water and before generations of First Nations families were decimated by toxic waste. “There’s Something in the Water” is strongest when focused on their first-person accounts. It’s perhaps no accident Page and Daniel chose to feature all women-activists, and there seems to be no shortage of amazing women on the front lines of protests, unafraid to take their fight right to the country’s prime minister. There’s no more damning a testimony than hearing how a mere $10,000 would mean the difference between potable drinking water for a community or continued poisoning, and even then, the local government chose to spend almost several that amount on an annual festival. It’s not unlike what’s happening in Flint, Michigan, and countless other poor and/or rural communities. 

                While Page uses her experience to tie these activists together, I’m not sure she needs to. It’s dismaying to think that the only reason audiences would care about environmental racism is because a white Canadian told them to when the activists’ stories are already so compelling. Whenever the documentary gets really wrapped up in their stories, Page reinserts herself, either by awkwardly entering a home in a messy, handheld shot or having the camera drift over to her horrified reaction to an ecological disaster. Further distracting from some of the film’s more poignant moments is a score that sometimes (but thankfully, not always) incorporates choral chants or harmonized voices, muddling Page’s voiceover message. 

                But while the documentary has the feel of a scrappy passion project, the message itself remains powerful. Given the chaotic times, “There’s Something in the Water” also serves as a stark reminder that not all governments have their citizens’ best interests at heart. 

                By: Monica Castillo
                Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:12 pm

                • Entertainer
                  Entertainer published a blog post Banana Split


                  There's something about the summer in between high school and college. Friendships break up or become super clingy, due to all that impending separation anxiety. Romances break up. People get way too drunk and hug it out. Tears are shed. Things get a little ... intense. "Banana Split" takes place during such a summer, complete with brightly-colored chapter markers: "89 Days Until Orientation," and etc. Even with the clock running down, there's an in-between feeling, a "this is forever and yet it's also ending" feeling, nicely captured by director Benjamin Kasulke, with poignant and sometimes funny needle drops, and two excellent central performances from Hannah Marks and Liana Liberato. There's a lot more complexity here than may meet the eye, even with the title's broad-stroke (so to speak) double entendre.

                  "Banana Split" opens with a montage, a bold and not entirely successful choice, showing the falling-in-love, virginity-losing, and eventual old-married-couple-fighting of April (Marks) and her hottie boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse). As the montage reveals in a quick succession of scenes, they're together for two years (basically a 40-year-marriage in high school years). But when April gets into Boston University, all the way across the country from Los Angeles, things change. Nick is going to school locally in California. He's hurt she would make such a choice. The two don't break up in a formal way. April still thinks they're going out, until one day she notices something horrifying: Nick posting pictures on his Instagram of him making out with another girl.

                  April is a pretty tough cookie, and judging from her mother (a very funny Jessica Hecht), and her trash-talking younger sister (Addison Riecke), the apples all fall from the same tree. Tough as she may be, April is devastated by Nick abandoning her (and confused by him still texting her). Luke Spencer Roberts plays Ben, friend to both Nick and April, who finds himself stuck in the middle. Meanwhile, April becomes obsessed with this new girl, who has dropped into their crowd from out of nowhere. She is Clara (Liana Liberato), a coolly beautiful and confident blonde, and April glowers at her from across crowded parties, getting way too drunk, tears pooling up in her eyes. Eventually, though, the girls become friends, and decide to continue their friendship without telling anyone—not Nick, not social media, no one. It's like they are cheating on everyone with each other. They sneak around, and Clara keeps seeing Nick, and April has many mixed feelings.

                  The script was co-written by Hannah Marks and Joey Power (this is their second script, the first being 2018's "After Everything"). Marks also served as executive producer for the film. Marks is just 27 years old, and this alone is hope for the future. Young women creating their own work, initiating projects, getting it done, not waiting around for someone in power to "give them" roles they deserve. Marks was recently named by Rolling Stone as one of the "25 under 25 changing the world." A heady label, but Marks seems more than ready to take on all those challenges. As children, both Marks and Liberato were profiled in a 2006 New York Times Magazine article about child actors (Liberato was featured on the cover). Child actors often flame out, suffering from the "too much too soon" tradition in the industry. But Marks and Liberato have made that transition with grace: they both work all the time, in television series (Marks in "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" and Liberato in "Sons of Anarchy" and "Light as a Feather"). In 2011, Liberato gave a tremendous performance in David Schwimmer's "Trust" playing a 14-year-old child lured into a "relationship" by a much-older online predator.

                  Here, together, Marks and Liberato make such an interesting onscreen pair. Marks is all wisecracks, but with an undercurrent of constant roiling emotion, rage and hurt and humor. She wears her mixed feelings on her sleeve. And Liberato plays a girl who presents as confident and open—but the truth is she's struggling to find her way, she's a little bit lost, even. Clara is not going to college. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. Sometimes flashes of deep ambivalence cross her face, showing that Clara doesn't quite like the way things are going, that she may not be as easy-breezy as she seems.

                  "Banana Split"'s opening sequence is a little rough. The dialogue is presentational, and the jokey tone is a bit arch. But once the two girls start hanging out together, "Banana Split" settles into its rhythm. There are moments of poignancy and humor. This is an entertaining and often insightful look at female friendship during a particularly strange time, the hiatus before everything changes, the last gasp before adulthood and independence. The film is refreshingly frank about teenage life, the drinking and drugs, the fake IDs, the drunken Lyft rides home, all of the bad choices everyone makes. The film isn't phobic or leering about female sexuality. It's all very matter-of-fact, another refreshing choice. Even Nick gets to have complexity (eventually). This is director Kasulke's first narrative feature, but he comes to the table with a lot of experience as a cinematographer and it shows. The film looks beautiful, using natural locations and available golden sunlight, all of which creates a real sense of the environment.

                  Make it through the first 10 minutes. It’s just the film warming up. The rest of it flows.

                  Available on VOD today, 3/27.

                  By: Sheila O'Malley
                  Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:13 pm

                  • Entertainer
                    Entertainer published a blog post Vivarium


                    There’s more hand-me-down genre movie tropes than recognizable human behavior in the new sci-fi/horror hybrid “Vivarium,” about a young couple (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) who is abducted and forced to raise a creepy pod person child. Which wouldn’t be so bad if “Vivarium” wasn’t about the suffocating nature of marriage and parenting in the 21st century.

                    “Vivarium” isn’t a fun watch, and not just because it’s generally claustrophobic and insistently bleak. Even less fun: watching a pair of talented actors go through the motions of an exhausted scenario that’s based almost entirely on pat assumptions about how pre-fabricated and insidious modern suburbia is. In every dream home a heartache? Yeah, sure.

                    After visiting a creepy realtor (Jonathan Aris), Tom and Gemma (Eisenberg and Poots) are driven to and then abandoned in Yonder, a very bland vision of an even blander gated community. Every house in Yonder is painted green, every backyard is mowed, and every cloud in the sky resembles a matte painting. Tom and Gemma try to escape, but they cannot find Yonder’s exit. So they settle in at #9 (no street address, presumably because they’re all the same), and periodically receive care packages of flavorless, but neatly vacuum-sealed perishables, like steak, eggs, and coffee. One such box includes a human baby; on the side of the box are these instructions: “Raise the child and be released.”

                    Time passes differently in Yonder, especially for Tom and Gemma’s unnamed child (Senan Jennings, and then later Eanna Hardwicke). This kid is like one of the Midwich Cuckoos from “Village of the Damned,” only he’s not nearly as interesting: he ages faster than normal, like a dog, and he asks awkward questions that have negligible existential value, like what’s a dog, what’s a dream, etc. Tom and Gemma’s child also screams whenever they don’t go through the motions of parenting him, like when they don’t serve him enough breakfast cereal. He also parrots their conversations back to them, like, oh, any time that Tom and Gemma argue. This kid is creepy, mostly thanks to Jennings and Hardwicke’s performances, but he’s not interesting enough to stick in your mind for long.

                    The same is basically true of Tom and Gemma’s frustrated coping strategies: he tries to escape by digging a hole in their lawn while she tries to bond with Jennings and Hardwicke’s bad seed. Tom and Gemma’s respective activities define who they are in “Vivarium,” because the plot doesn’t slow down long enough to relate any valuable information beyond expository dialogue. This is especially frustrating whenever Tom and Gemma’s situation tells us how they feel about each other, because those feelings are often as vague as Tom and Gemma’s ersatz son.

                    Most “Vivarium” scenes are too brisk and un-nuanced to flesh out Yonder’s ostensibly forbidding world of plastic, consumer-friendly domesticity. One moment we’re watching Tom trudge from the breakfast table back to his lawn hole. Then, a few minutes and scenes later, we’re watching him cough up a lung, and pantomime bone-deep weariness. Eisenberg’s a talented performer, but he’s not good enough to suggest soul-sick mania in a few seconds.

                    Viewers are also left with a number of basic conceptual questions that are never really answered, because Tom and Gemma don’t waste much time talking their way through their problems. Is that lack of introspection supposed to mean something? It’s hard to tell, especially given how unyielding most of the movie’s dialogue is, like when Gemma wonderingly tells her child that “You’re a mystery, and I’m going to solve you.” Equally banal dialogue exchanges, like when she tells him that a dream is “all sorts of moving pictures in your mind, but no one else can see them,” also reminded me of the human sensitivity that’s often lacking from “Vivarium.” I know this movie is supposed to be about what it’s like to be sucked dry by social expectations … but does it have to be so empty, too?

                    Every moment in “Vivarium” is a frustrating synecdoche, since no single metaphor or image convey an idea that you probably couldn’t think up with yourself during an especially foul mood. Marriage is a prison; parenting is a scam; home ownership is a trap; and you’ll probably die alone, without a substantial legacy. Understood, but who cares? If all you can show me is what you think isn’t genuine, you leave me with zero idea about what you think authenticity looks like, or why I should care. “Vivarium” is the horror movie equivalent of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans: easy to reproduce, easier to forget.

                    Available on VOD today, 3/27.

                    By: Simon Abrams
                    Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:13 pm

                    • Entertainer
                      Entertainer published a blog post The Scheme


                      There may be no March Madness this year but there’s something truly insane related to college basketball this Tuesday. Airing on HBO after its canceled SXSW premiere, “The Scheme” tells the story of Christian Dawkins, a man whose ambition and business savvy became the focus of a major federal operation to bring down corruption in the NCAA. You may remember the fallout in 2017 that led to the resignation of Rick Pitino at Louisville, but the truth is that not much seemed to change in the NCAA. Personally, I remembered Sean Miller of Arizona’s angry press conference and a few other ESPN early reports but wondered what came of it. The truth is that most people know there’s corruption in the NCAA because it’s a system designed to support it through its nonsensical arguments about amateurism. So the question of “The Scheme” becomes not so much what did the government uncover but why did they bother? And perhaps a bit frustratingly unexplored by the film, why did they just kind of gently place the cover back when they were done?

                      “The Scheme” is really a profile piece of Christian Dawkins, the Michigan man who was the center of this expensive sting operation. Dawkins grew up in Saginaw, a high school basketball hot spot that has produced major players like Draymond Green. His brother looked like the next NBA star but he died at a tragically young age from an undiagnosed heart condition. With his brother’s talent, the legacy of his school’s program, and a father who was a famous coach locally, it seems inevitable that Dawkins would go into something related to basketball. And it turned out that he had incredible business savvy. At a young age, he was scouting high school players and selling the results to college coaches. He was negotiating shoe deals for players in high school. It made perfect sense that he would try to get into managing players.

                      And so he did. In the mid’-10s, he raised some capital and worked toward founding his own company that would kind of guide players from high school through college and into the pros. Imagine finding the right guy early and getting a cut of an NBA All-Star future. Naturally, Dawkins became an essential ally for college coaches, not just offering advice but encouraging his players to go to certain schools. However, none of what Dawkins was doing was illegal. He’s a representative, someone to speak for the players and guide their future. And yet, for some reason, the government saw him as the key to a massive corruption sting.

                      They sent in undercover agents to basically hand Dawkins money and then encourage him to bring coaches into the financial system. While “The Scheme” is arguably one-sided—the producers reached out to the government and coaches but they refused comment—it’s hard to watch the undercover footage here and not consider this entrapment. Dawkins repeatedly tries to explain to his new investors that bribing coaches isn’t what he does and what he wants to do. It’s not out of an allegiance to a corrupt, broken system, but it just doesn’t make sense for his business model. But someone decided that college coaches are public officials and so bribing would be enough for a corruption charge and they kept pushing their way into a horrible scheme.

                      Clearly, the plan was to get just enough on Dawkins to turn him to then dismantle the system further, but Dawkins didn’t play along. “The Scheme” takes a bit too long to get there—it didn’t need to be a full two hours—but the final quarter of this game is ridiculously entertaining and enlightening. Without “spoiling” anything, you’ll hear the voices of some major players in the college coaching scene who will have some serious explaining to do if they want to keep their jobs next week. And Dawkins is charmingly defiant about all of it. He’s the main reason “The Scheme” works, someone who can look at all of this nonsense and see it for what it is. The filmmakers rely a bit too much on interviews—the old criticism of "talking-head movie" could be used here—but Dawkins is a fascinating subject, and there's filmmaking skill in how they get him to open up for the first time and detail everything that happened.

                      The headlines that dropped on Dawkins, Pitino, and others emerged from a deeply broken system, one that punishes players for minor offenses while making millions off their talents. The fact that the U.S. government wasted so much time and resources poorly trying to push into one corner of this behemoth of corruption and greed is the real story here. And it’s well-told.

                      “The Scheme” airs on HBO on Tuesday night at 9pm EST. 

                      By: Brian Tallerico
                      Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:13 pm

                      • Entertainer
                        Entertainer published a blog post Resistance


                        Everybody hates mimes, we have been led to believe. But this is not true, or at least, not quite true. In the training of actors, mime is an important learned skill. And I am told that every young actor, after a period of thorough training, will long carry with them a secret yearning to be cast in a role that will somehow allow them to really show their learned mime skills, despite the fact that everybody hates mimes. It is a curious position.

                        When we first see Jesse Eisenberg (now in his mid-thirties, incidentally) in “Resistance,” he is wearing a Charlie Chaplin mustache and performing mime. His angry father, a Kosher butcher, pursues him into an alley. “Look at you, dressed as Hitler and performing in a whorehouse.” Eisenberg’s character, Marcel, corrects him about the Hitler/Chaplin confusion and further clarifies that it’s a cabaret rather than a brothel. The time is 1938. The place is Strasbourg, France.

                        Some older readers may be adding two and two here. A character named …Marcel? Who’s also a … mime? Why yes. And here’s the other contradiction of the truism that everybody hates mimes. Because Eisenberg here is indeed playing the real-life figure who would achieve world renown and fame as Marcel Marceau, the 20th century’s only universally beloved mime. Beloved not just because of his skills and innovations, but because his mime art was one of abundant humanity.

                        Did you know that Marceau was a real-life war hero? He was. He began working in what became known as the French Resistance well before the Nazi invasion of France, and in secret alliance with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organization helped save the lives of thousands of war orphans. This movie, written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan filmmaker of Polish-Jewish descent, who also made the 2016 “Hands of Stone,” weaves a couple of other narrative threads around Marcel’s. The movie opens with Elsbeth, a young Jewish girl being reassured by her parents and then almost immediately orphaned. Strangely, we then cut to Nuremburg after the Allied victory, and General George Patton addressing his troops. (Patton is played by Ed Harris.) Did you know that Marcel Marceau was also a liaison officer for Patton during the last days of the war? Well he was. The movie also chronicles the depredations of Klaus Barbie (while juggling, for the sake of themes, some of the facts of his personal life), the Nazi who was nicknamed “The Butcher of Lyon.”

                        Jakubowicz handles these threads with coherence and vigor. As for its main thrust, well you can imagine what happens when you put a trained mime in a situation where he has to handle a lot of traumatized children. Marcel distracts them with amusing routines, which Eisenberg … uses his no doubt extensive training in mime to recreate.

                        I know what you are thinking. But no, this is not “Life Is Beautiful.” The joy-in-the-midst-of-tragedy theme is provisional. The movie also portrays Marcel as a genuine fighter. Although it does reach a bit here. There’s a moment where Marcel uses fire eating, the venerable for-mature-audiences circus trick, in a bid to set fire to a Nazi officer. I mean, it could have happened. But as portrayed here, it’s a little on the nose. That said, it’s salutary that the movie doesn’t lean on love-conquers-all platitudes. There’s a crucial scene in which Emma (Clémence Poésy) attempts suicide after enduring torture from Barbie. (The scenes in which Barbie executes and torments prisoners are set in a converted gymnasium and its empty swimming pool; the tiles are shiny, gleaming, giving the sequences an almost futuristic quality of gruesomeness.) After saving her, Marcel explains that seeking revenge is useless; actively saving lives is all that matters. It’s a cogent expression of the proper spirit of resistance—that it should be based in love, but expressed in action. Direct, effective action.

                        On the other hand, this is also a movie in which a group of characters sits in the back of a van, discussing what it means to be a Jew, and one of them says “Jews are emancipated slaves,” and there’s a cutaway to the only person of color in the van perking up. That is, it’s a bit literal minded. And, yes, mime-heavy. But I give it a lot of credit for being a movie that doesn’t have its head up its own fundament concerning the question of how Nazis should have, and should be, fought. 

                        Available on VOD today, 3/27.

                        By: Glenn Kenny
                        Posted: March 27, 2020, 2:13 pm

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                        Based on the memoir by Deborah Feldman, Netflix's “Unorthodox” presents viewers with a rare women’s perspective from inside a Hasidic community in Williamsburg, an aspect that's a large part of this miniseries' intrigue. While it features a lot of specific Hasidic rituals and parts of lifestyle, its attitude takes after great deal from the book’s subtitle: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. This is a melancholic story, told with a touch as sensitive as it is respectful, but with the same overwhelming feeling as an observer: "Get out of there!". And yet the feeling underneath this story is a quiet angst, which sometimes erupts in the tears that fall down the cheeks of courageous escapee Esther. 

                        If only the miniseries that sets her free had more to say about the community she's fleeing, or the new world she throws herself into. Shira Haas plays Esther (also known as Esty), a young woman from an ultra-Orthodox community who wants to get out. In the first of the miniseries’ four episodes, she plans a getaway to a destination that soon becomes clear to us (Berlin), for reasons that are more and more pertinent—the oppression she faced as a woman in the community, especially after being married to a man named Yanky (Amit Rahav). It's a scandal within the community, reflected on the faces of other women (like Esty's grandmother Babby [Dina Doron]) who have themselves been hollowed out and silenced by patriarchy. 

                        Once in Berlin, Esther is frightened and alone, but quickly feels the difference—bright colors, a diverse group of people, open spaces. Even the daylight seems to be brighter there. As someone who secretly practiced piano for years (a woman being musical was seen as immodest), she finds refuge in a music school, sleeping there one night and befriending a hip group of students. They accept her quickly, having come from all over the world themselves, and offer her a strong juxtaposition of family. Esty's initial plan is to earn a scholarship for piano, even though it’s revealed that she is able to present passion more than technique. 


                        On Esty’s tail are Yanky and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch), the latter who seems invested in tracking down Esty for the sake of the hunt, and also as a further exercise of his repressed machismo. They try to initially track down her mother Leah (who fled years ago), but split up, and have different varied emotional experiences about being outside of their community. Yanky, who is in a way as frightened as Esty, tries to balance in his heart his roles as a Hasidic man, and what feels right to him as a quietly sensitive person; Moishe has a darker side, and dabbles with gambling and gangsters in Berlin. Meanwhile, Esty finds herself restarting life from zero, Haas' docile performance presenting a woman experiencing so many new yet relatively ordinary things, like trying on jeans. 

                        Created by Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, "Unorthodox" contrasts Esty's new story with flashbacks to the process that ultimately broke her, like getting set up with Yanky, and realizing more and more that she is only meant to serve a role of subservient wife and mother, instead of being an independent person. And while "Unorthodox" has rich cultural detail in presenting this community back in Williamsburg, the tragic note it hits remains the same. In this story, religion is presented as a joyless life sentence. That’s an entirely welcome depiction whether one agrees with it or not, it’s more that it flattens out the story when it comes to making a challenging world or set of characters, and makes Esty's liberation all the more obvious. It's a breath of fresh air the moment she steps out of the Berlin airport in episode one, and the flashbacks to the past confirm again and again how much better her life will be the further she moves on. Not even the prospect of a chase seems to put that in anxious jeopardy, with Yanky and Moishe doing some clumsy investigating around Berlin. 

                        Esty's own inner conflict is not about whether she'd ever go back, it's just whether she'll be able to make it in Berlin (of which the fourth episode has an answer to that that goes from powerful to quaint). The epiphanies that Esty experiences are undercut too, as much as it becomes clear that she never has heard techno music, or tried on lipstick. 

                        The best byproduct of the miniseries' expansive narrative focus is that it portrays sex in this world for all of its mechanics and dreaded repeated nights of a woman’s displeasure. Like when Esty is chided by Yanky's mother about their failed attempts at sex, it's full of mortifying ideas of control in service of a man's ego. This story focus later leads to a face of visceral horror from Esty (during Yanky’s pleasure) that all the more solidifies the grave inequality in their community. And "Unorthodox" only need provide such criticism through simple matter-of-factness, with passion-less sex presented as being barely different from time in the synagogue. 

                        Berlin itself plays a compelling part in "Unorthodox," given the story's focus on the impact of the past. Within these events is a sense of trauma from the Holocaust, and that provides a tension to the ideologies that the story briefly touches. In one of the miniseries’ best scenes, a defiant character objects to Esther being in Berlin in part because of its history, and all the lost souls that are there; but Esther is connected with the place because it has a sense of new life. This moment comes almost too late in the story, and there seems to be a missing thread about how her mother's secret German citizenship (revealed in episode one) plays into the dual notions of identity and acceptance. 

                        "Unorthodox" is always tender, especially as it laments the kind of experiences had by real-life Esthers. But its pacing is gradual almost to a fault, and spreads itself thin when stepping away to focus on Moishe’s vices, and Yanky’s sensitive realizations. For the most part, it's a four-episode miniseries that particularly feels like its themes would have been better serviced in a two-hour movie, especially in bottling up the shock of a woman's long overdue freedom, and the chase it inspires. 

                        "Unorthodox" is now playing on Netflix.

                        By: Nick Allen
                        Posted: March 27, 2020, 5:35 pm

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