Repo Woman


by Hope Madden

It’s been eight years since Brandon Cronenberg swam familiar family waters with his feature debut, Antiviral. He is back with another cerebral, body-conscious fantasy thriller and my first thought is dayyuuuummmmn…

Son of the master of corporeal scifi horror David Cronenberg, Brandon appears to come by his fixations naturally. With Possessor, he travels along with a high end assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who uses a piece of tech (inserted directly into the squishy brain, naturally) to body hop from one mark to the next. She enters one body, takes it over, executes the hit and moves on.

That last part has started to cause some issues, though.

As it was with Antival, much of the world building here is left to our imagination and the film is stronger for it. Possessor’s internal logic is solid enough to be the entire plot. The context is impeccably rendered, providing the most disturbing landscape for Riseborough and her primary avatar, played by the nicely understated Christopher Abbott.

All of it proves an incredible piece of misdirection for what the film is actually accomplishing.

For much of the running time, the chameleonic and underappreciated Riseborough’s Tasya Vos plays an observant interloper—exactly what we are in this weirdly meticulous and recognizable future world. Showy jabs about privacy, appropriation, gender definition and capitalism are simultaneously clever and intentionally distracting.

Cronenberg’s created a gorgeous techno world, its lulling disorientation punctuated by some of the most visceral horror to make it to the screen this year. There is something admirably confident about showing your influences this brazenly.

Credit Cronenberg, too, for the forethought to cast the two leads as females (Jennifer Jason Leigh playing Riseborough’s boss). The theme of the film, if driven by males, would have been passe and obvious. With females, though, it’s not only more relevant and vital, but more of a gut punch when the time comes to cash the check.

Possessor is a meditation on identity, sometimes very obviously so, but the underlying message takes that concept and stabs you in your still-beating heart with it.

Club Champion

If These Walls Could Talk

by George Wolf

If you’ve lived anywhere near Columbus, Ohio during the last few decades, you’ve probably got some great memories of the longest continually running rock club in America: Newport Music Hall.

Full disclosure: I tended bar right next door for two years, was lucky enough to meet many of the Newport headliners, even used the access from the shared basement storeroom to sneak behind stage a time or two.

My wife and I had our first date there at a Warren Zevon show in 1990. Years later we dropped our teenage son off to see some band I can’t remember.

Still, I instantly think of an electric James Brown concert in 1986. It was the second of two sold out shows at the Newport, and Mr. Dynamite was riding a smash with “Living in America.” He loaded the stage with about 500 band members, never letting up until we begged for mercy.

Pure funky magic.

The Newport has enjoyed countless nights of magic in the 50 years since it began hosting live shows as the Agora in 1970. If These Walls Could Talk gives the club the respectful, nostalgic salute it deserves, one full of history, some rockin’ archival footage, and plenty of damn good stories.

Ted Nugent threatening a sound man’s life. Melissa Etheridge going acoustic when the power went out. Todd Rundgren staying up all night to fix the sound system. Future O.A.R. members walking to class at Ohio State and dreaming of playing on the Newport stage. U2 live for four dollars and fifty cents.

And offstage, the tale of how Scott Stienecker saved the North High St. venue in 1984 ain’t bad, either. The short version: sorry Walgreens, hello Newport.

The film effortlessly cements how important the Agora/Newport has been not only to Columbus, but to the entire live music industry. Executive Producer Jason Corron understandably has more footage from recent concerts at his disposal, but he creates enough of an overall sense of history to make the classic moments that much more resonant.

No director is credited, and there are some moments of bumpy production values (sound mix transitions, especially) that could have benefitted from an experienced filmmaking hand.

But If These Walls Could Talk will have fans practically salivating for the return of live music. It will remind you how unforgettable the intimacy of a small club can be, and just how much of a gem we have right here in our backyard.

50 years. Here’s to 50 more.

If These Walls Could Talk airs in a free, one time event Nov. 4th at 8pm on the PromoWest YouTube channel or

In My Oils

Eternal Beauty

by George Wolf

Actor and filmmaker Craig Roberts has pointed to a family member beset by mental illness as the inspiration for Eternal Beauty. You can feel the care Roberts takes in trading stigmas for “superpowers,” as well as the trust he puts in his stellar ensemble to mine the subtle humanity in his script.

Roberts played Sally Hawkins’s son in the sublime Submarine ten years ago, and arranging a working reunion sits right at the top of the smart choices made for his second feature as writer/director.

The Oscar-nominated Hawkins plays Jane, a woman managing to live independently with paranoid schizophrenia, constant medication and bouts of depression. She still has scars from being left at the altar years before, and receives precious little affection or encouragement from her mother (the always welcome Penelope Wilton) or sisters (Alice Lowe, Billie Piper).

Jane’s choice to take a break from her meds brings concerns (like the giant spider hallucinations) but also some welcome clarity amid her constant fog. After first rebuffing the interest of Mike (David Thewlis), an aspiring musician with similar mental issues, Jane accepts his advances, and the two begin a relationship bearing all the awkwardness and free-spirited fun of first love.

Hawkins, again, is a wonderful vessel of expression. Jane may stumble through her days wearing oversized clothes and offering hushed sentences, but she’s always observing and dissecting. She can notice the red flags of her brother-in-law’s wandering eye, and sensibly concoct a darkly hilarious plan to improve her family’s choice in Christmas gifts. Through it all, Hawkins’s vision of Jane is never less than human, and always deeply affecting.

Roberts often films with disjointed angles and changing colors to reflect Jane’s worldview, which sounds more cloying than it actually is, much like the tonal shifts that Roberts softens through a wise commitment to understatement.

More than once in the film we hear a doctor advise: “Don’t fight depression, make friends with it.” By treating Jane’s joy and heartbreak less like a clinical study and more as parts of a greater familial whole, Eternal Beauty finds a way to make those orders seem doable.

Gonna Shout It Everyday

The Glorias

by Hope Madden

“The path up is always a jagged line.”

Gloria Steinem always could articulate the struggle toward progress. Filmmaker Julie Taymor certainly understands that sometimes the best way forward is not straight ahead. The daring filmmaker (Across the Universe, Frida, Titus) puts four Glorias on a bus heading nowhere and everywhere to help us see Gloria Steinem, backward and forward.

The Steinem we best recognize—trailblazing feminist and human rights advocate of the 60s, 70s and onward—is played by the always excellent Julianne Moore. Wise and just a little weary, Moore’s version brings Steinem’s warm soul to the screen.

She’s joined in the role by Alicia Vikander, who plays Steinem in her 20s and 30s; Lulu Wilson as teenaged Gloria; and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, portraying Steinem as a child. Though Vikander stumbles with the flat Ohio accent, each performance establishes something that grows from one era to the next: resolve, openness, vulnerability, courage.

Timothy Hutton shines as Steinem’s father, Leo, and Bette Midler commits outright larceny in her scenes as Bella Abzug. A host of minor roles—Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero), Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) and more—fill out a picture of early feminism far more vibrant than history sometimes remembers.

Taymor’s characteristic flourishes sometimes work well to enrich a tale fit for a legend. At other times, they seem like filler in a film that’s far broader than it is deep.

It is exhilarating to watch these pioneering advocates spar and support, dodge and demand, and most of all, speak up. It’s heartbreaking, too. There’s exhausting tragedy in all that promise left unfulfilled, and real terror in the face of what we now stand to actually lose.

But a cameo from the legend herself may be enough to reaffirm anyone’s resolve. As she says, “The constitution does not begin with ‘I the President.’ It begins with ‘We the people.’”

Do the Work

Scare Me

by Hope Madden

Writer’s block—it is a common theme in all writing, especially horror. Think about The Shining, for example. Fred (writer/director/star Josh Ruben) certainly is. And at first, writer’s block is what the writer/director in Ruben leads you to believe Scare Me is all about.

Fred takes a cab to a wintry cabin. He tries to dodge questions from his driver, who, like Fred, fancies herself a bit of a writer. A short time later, Fred stares at a laptop screen. He’s not typing.

A power outage and a chance encounter with “real writer” Fanny (Aya Cash) lead to an evening of telling scary stories. And just like that stormy night so long ago when Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley out-storied her companions Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, the male ego is more easily wounded than any fictional character.

At its best, Scare Me offers an intriguing look inside the mind of privilege. What is it like to be a decent-looking white guy who has to resolve himself to the fact that he actually has no claim to that top spot on the totem pole that he’s always been told is his?

At its worst, it’s an overlong bit of self-indulgence.

As Fred’s nemesis/love interest(?)/frenemy Fanny, Cash is straightforward, merciless, funny and full of insight—as is Ruben’s script. Scare Me has no time for entitled, lazy writers.

For any of the real tensions of the film to work, we have to recognize and, to a degree, empathize with—even root for—Fred. Thanks to a smart script and an eerily recognizable performance, we do.

Ruben does an excellent job of wading those familiar waters, sort of likable and loathsome, sympathetic and toxic. Fred is kind of a good guy, or he sees himself as a good guy. Of course, he also sees himself as a writer.

The film hits its high (pun intended) when pizza guy Carlo  (SNL’s Chris Redd) joins the storytelling. It’s not quite enough to save a second act that simply goes on for too long. But a bloated midriff doesn’t spoil Scare Me entirely, a savvy piece of storytelling in itself.

Going Once…Going Twice…

Public Trust

by George Wolf

Do we really need another documentary showcasing greed as one of America’s most identifiable traits, “rigged” as our favorite path to winning, and Donald Trump as one of our biggest mistakes?

Check the calendar. Yes, we do.

Director David Byars, whose 2017 debut documentary No Man’s Land profiled the fight over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife refuge, returns to environmental concerns with Public Trust, a deep dive into an ongoing battle for ground.

That ground is a swath of some 640 million acres of public land, currently held in trust by the federal government and “owned” by every American citizen. Cut to the chase: conservatives have been trying to privatize these National Parks, forests, grasslands and refuges for decades (since Reagan – shocker!), and the lunatic now in office makes something as unthinkable as selling off the Grand Canyon seem like it might be on the table.

As good documentarians do, Byars humanizes the issue through people invested in the subject. From a journalist in the trenches to a climate change warrior to a Native American tribe fighting for their livelihood, we feel how these lands are tied to identity and common good on one side, and industry profits on the other.

With Robert Redford on board as executive producer, the lack of narrative flash here comes as little surprise. But while Public Trust‘s case building is workmanlike, the rallying cry is no less urgent.

Vote, before it’s too late.

Mr. Lonely


by Hope Madden

Can a film be absurd without really being cynical? That might be the miracle of Miranda July, who mixes heartbreak and humor like no one else.

Fifteen years since her groundbreaking Me and You and Everyone We Know and nine years since The Future, the writer/director returns to the screen with a film every bit as ambitious but perhaps more contained and intimate.

In Kajillionaire, a miraculous Evan Rachel Wood is Old Dolio Dyne, 26-year-old woman-child who knows no existence other than that of the low-rent cons she runs day in, day out with her disheveled but wily parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger).

Like Hirokazu Koreeda’s delicate 2018 film Shoplifters and Bong Joon Ho’s 2019 masterpiece Parasite, Kajillionaire disregards the idea of the glamorous con and settles fully into the concept of scam as a daily grind. And, like Koreeda and Ho, July uses this workaday world to examine family. Although July’s vision is more decidedly comedic and highly stylized, she hits the same notes.

The Dynes make their home in an abandoned office space that shares a wall with a car wash. Every day—twice on Wednesdays—pink bubbles descend that wall and it’s up to the Dynes to collect, discard, and dry, lest the foundation of the building become besot with dampness and mold. The precision clockwork (their digital watches are timed to go off) and the pink ooze become ideal identifiers of Old Dolio’s rigid yet surreal existence.

Things get unpredictable when Mom and Dad take a shine to Melanie (an effervescent Gina Rodriguez). She loves their oddball qualities and wants to join the team, but Old Dolio is immediately put off by the disruption, and more than that, by her parents’ doting affection for Melanie.

July is a sharp, witty and incisive filmmaker, but Kajillionaire benefits more from the performances than any of her other films. Wood is like an alien visiting human life, then imitating and observing it, and the performance is oddly heartbreaking.

Jenkins and Winger are reliably magnificent, and Rodriguez’s bright charm is the needed light in an otherwise gloomy tale.

The film hits July’s sweet spot: gawky introverts struggling to find, accept and maintain human connections. The humor works as well as it does because the whimsy and eccentricity in the film is grounded in compassion rather than mockery.

Home A Clone

LX 2048

by George Wolf

Well, you’ll save money on sunscreen.

Because in the near future world of LX 2048, the only way you can venture out in the daylight is by going full hazmat. In fact, the sun has become so lethal that clone technology is needed to meet the demand for augmented dayworkers.

Once the clones arrive, the unintended consequences are sure to follow. And Adam Bird is getting an up close look at some of them.

Things are not going well for Adam (James D’Arcy). His tech company is on shaky ground, and he hasn’t been taking his LX “mood stabilizers” which could help with the really bad news: his heart is failing and he doesn’t have long to live. Though his relationship with wife Reena (Anna Brewster) and the kids was already on the rocks, Adam is worried about securing their future.

Then, through frequent flashbacks, writer/director/producer/editor Guy Moshe fills in the backstory. Though virtual reality has taken over by 2048, “the chip” is the next big thing. There’s been a massive decline in population. And the Premium 3 insurance plan allows you to “tailor” your spousal replacement clone in the event of death.

What luck for Reena! The Birds are Premium 3 plan holders.

Moshe’s overly cheesy opening credits lower the expectations of what’s to come, but there are engaging visuals and some solid sci-fi ideas here, albeit ones fighting to overcome stilted dialog and tonal swings.

Adam’s conversations with unseen VR avatars are overly explanatory only for our benefit, sometimes bringing a wince-worthy phoniness to D’Arcy’s performance. And yet, when Moshe suddenly introduces moments of absurdist humor, you wonder if either tract was intended.

Delroy Lindo’s cameo as cloning tech legend Donald Stein instantly raises the stakes. Lindo’s natural gravitas make Stein’s musings about what it means to be human and the wages of playing God land a tick higher on the scale of standard sci-fi existential crises.

This is a film that often feels adrift and in need of an anchor. It’s neither as smart as it wants to be, nor as dumb as you fear early on. Much like its main character, LX 2048 has heart, but you’re never sure how long it can hold out.

Raise A Voice


by Rachel Willis

It’s been a hell of a year.

Not only will 2020 live in infamy as the year we grappled with a worldwide pandemic, it is also the year Trump faces a reckoning in the United States. Will he be voted out of office? Or will he secure a second term?

As unlikely as a second term might sound to some, director Cheryl Jacobs Crim doesn’t want her audience (likely those opposed to Trump and his agenda) to become complacent. With her film, Resisterhood, she reminds us why people, particularly women, are fighting the Trump agenda.

On Day 1 of Trump’s presidency, as many as 500,000 women, and men, descended on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March – a gathering that let the new president know he was on watch.

And as the days of Trump’s presidency progressed, he was indeed being watched. As every devastating and harmful decision was passed down, protestors lined the streets around the country to declare this was not their America. From the People’s Climate March on Day 100 to the United We Dream protest on Day 231, Crim documents it all.

Crim captures the feelings surrounding these moments by interviewing women and men who are part of the resistance. From psychologist Jean Graber, who is following in the footsteps of her grandmother – suffragette Edith Hooker – to Egyptian immigrant, Mimi Hassanein, who ran for office in her community, to Illinois Representative Luis Gutiérrez, Crim intersperses these interviews with scenes of protests, primarily in the nation’s capital.

The movie runs pell-mell through the actions and reactions of Trump’s presidency. At times, when reminded of everything Trump has realized as president, it’s hard not to feel dejected. However, many of the women Crim interviews are still hopeful. More and more women, minorities and young people are participating in the democratic process – either in the streets, at the ballot box, or as political candidates. 

But there is a reminder that complacency is the enemy. It would be easy, worryingly easy, to topple our democracy, and while Resisterhood is steeped in the culture surrounding our current political climate, it has a timeless message. 

If you want to effect change, you must participate. If you need a reminder that your vote, your voice matters, start with Resisterhood.