Alex Sitaras: One of my favorite young actors today is Lakeith Stanfield. Known for his quirky performances and the broad variety of films he stars in, Stanfield leads The Photograph opposite Issa Rae, adding a romantic drama to his acting palette. Directing the film is Stella Meghie who has directed an episode of Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure as well as directing and writing a few films of her own. The Photograph centers on the romance formed between Michael (Stanfield) and Mae (Rae) when Michael, a journalist, is assigned to write about Mae’s late mother, an emotionally-distant photographer. It seems that their romance, despite being central to the film, won’t be the only thematic area that The Photograph explores. Family, memory, and grief look also to be themes that are delved into through Meghie’s film.
Kevin Jones: Definitely agree about Stanfield. He’s been taking some interesting chances in recent years with roles like Sorry to Bother You and Uncut Gems in his filmography. Those chances have definitely paid off, while giving him one of the more exciting body of works amongst young actors. I love his way of bringing to life supporting characters – like in Uncut Gems or Knives Out, as well as Get Out – who could easily fade into the background of a film if played by a less talented actor. I’m excited to see him as a romantic lead, something I did not expect to see from him next. It’ll also be interesting to see Kelvin Harrison Jr. in the film, who earned some plaudits for his turns in Luce and Waves last year. He’s another promising young actor and I’m interested to see the role he plays in The Photograph.
From the titles we’ve selected for this month’s Most Anticipated, it’s hard to find a natural transition. That said, I will go with The Invisible Man (dir. Leigh Whannell) as another film I’m excited about for February. It’s definitely not romantic; rather, it centers on the psychological terror delivered by an abusive ex on a woman who just wants to escape him. Elisabeth Moss stars while Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays the titular “Invisible Man”, a controlling boyfriend and brilliant scientist. Based on the story by H.G. Wells that was adapted way back in 1933 (one of the very best Universal horror films of the era, in my opinion) and has been adapted a few times since, how writer/director Leigh Whannell approaches the material will be interesting. Taking a more twisted take on the story, I’m reminded of Paul Verhoeven‘s Hollow Man which also adapted Wells’ novel and portrayed the scientist going mad with a killing spree and indulging in some perverse desires. Whannell’s take with an abusive relationship giving way to the control of an invisible man refusing to let go of his girlfriend seems in line with that darkness, which’ll be interesting and, most likely, terrifying to watch unfold.
Alex: That’s interesting- I didn’t realize the film was based on a Wells novel. The plot is similar to a number of films released each year, but the science fiction component of the novel could be interesting if it plays a role here as well as Moss’s performance (of course). Moss, known for the exceptionally dark roles she chooses, is no stranger to playing a character on the brink of insanity, and I’m sure she’ll do really well with Whannell’s script. Originally a writer and an actor, Whannell has taken on directing in recent years and achieved success not too long ago with his film Upgrade, which I remember you enjoyed.
Kevin: I did enjoy Upgrade. It was a really interesting tech horror thriller that Whannell did quite well in staging the action as well as probing themes about scientific advancement. It is perhaps for that reason that I am so intrigued by his take on The Invisible Man with it being in line (at least somewhat) with the themes and flaws of “advancement” that Upgrade probed. How the two parallel one another will be interesting to see, possibly establishing somewhat of a throughline through his early directorial works.
Alex: The next film up to discuss is also a horror film from the duo that brought us Goodnight Mommy. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have cast Riley Keough as the lead in The Lodge, Keough being incredibly successful in the indie film circuit working with directors such as Steven Soderbergh, Lars Von Trier, and Andrea Arnold just to name a few. Distributing the film is NEON, a studio that has churned out hit after hit last year with Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire to their name. There’s a certain amount of expectation that comes into play with these strong associations, and it seems from critic reviews so far that The Lodge will not disappoint. The film looks to be a slow burner, Grace (Keough) getting to know her new stepchildren in a desolate (read: spooky) winter cabin. The Lodge‘s trailer suggests that Grace has a relation to a mass cult suicide while the stepchildren seem cold and bitter towards Grace, adding tension to their scenes together.
Kevin: Riley Keough seems to be in a lot nowadays and it is definitely, as you said, not without good reason. Though I have not seen Goodnight Mommy, I am intrigued by The Lodge as a fan of slow-burn horror. A cabin in the woods is definitely a horror trope, but one that always makes for a fun setting. How Franz and Fiala take advantage of this and make it feel like their own will likely be key, but based on reviews, it definitely does seem like they were quite successful. Jaeden Martell is also in this film and he has done a great job carving out a nice career thus far. How he does here should be fun to watch as well. He’s definitely no stranger to horror via IT, but kids in horror movies are always creepy so it’ll be interesting to see how he does here and how he plays off of Keough.
Alex: The first restoration I want to bring up is Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s Teorema. One of Pasolini’s lesser known films, I am very excited that The Criterion Collection is restoring and adding the film to their collection. Presently, the film only has a US DVD release that is very rare so physical media enthusiasts have reason to look forward to the Criterion release. Teorema is one of those films that is so bizarre and original, that I’d compare it to Dogtooth in terms of boldness (and coldness) and Parasite in terms of broad thematic overtones and tropes. The film stars Terrence Stamp as a mysterious stranger who appears at a bourgeois family’s estate. He makes a strong impression, sexually, on all of the members of the household, and becomes each family member’s confidant in their personal struggles in addition to being a sexual partner. Stamp has a magnetic presence to the family, and Teorema explores the repercussions that occur when someone who satisfies a person’s deepest desires and is privy to one’s innermost thoughts disappears just as mysteriously as they arrive. Giving little in terms of self-expression, Stamp enables his character to be whoever others want him to be. Pasolini’s film is to some extent a commentary on wealth and privilege, but also a commentary on where desire (sexually or not) arises and whether or not satisfying these desires is truly in our best interest.
Kevin: I know you’re a Pasolini fan, so I’m not surprised to hear how much you enjoy Teorema. As somebody who has not seen a Pasolini before, I share your excitement for this release due to how odd it sounds. From your description, it seems to match what I am somewhat expecting, with a mysterious magnetism presented that is sure to be rather enticing to watch. Plus, I love Terence Stamp. He is a great actor, excelling at playing characters with an understated demeanor. I love him in films like The Collector, The Hit, or The Limey, especially, so seeing him something from Pasolini will be quite the experience. I’m intrigued to see where it lines up with some of the performances I have seen in before as well as the chances he takes in the role. The release from Criterion should be quite a revelation visually as it is the result of a 4K transfer while also providing an English-dubbed soundtrack that features the voice of Stamp and others. The release also includes puts together a few old interviews and an audio commentary as well as a new interview, a new subtitle translation, and a booklet with an essay. It seems to be a very well-rounded release of a film that definitely needed an upgrade, with this release hopefully elevating its profile.
Last year, I went on a bit of a binge of Joseph Losey‘s work so I’m ecstatic to see his work making it to Blu-ray to the degree that it has in recent months. New Blu-rays of films like Time Without Pity, The Damned, Accident, Secret Ceremony, and The Go-Between, have come out in just the past few months, while coming out this month from Kino Lorber is a new release of Losey’s The Criminal. Starring Stanley Baker, this is a criminally underseen film that finds Losey working in familiar thematic territory. It is a rumination on the life of a doomed repeat criminal, a man who believes himself to be a powerful and revered figure but who is anything but. Rather, he is just a multiple time convict who is in-and-out of prison, being used by bigger criminals as a means to an end. Losey was one filmmaker who was forced overseas due to the HUAC trials and he was never afraid to work in themes that question capitalist society. Here, the portrayal of a common man who is exploited by those in control of the criminal underworld is right up Losey’s alley. Baker’s strong performance, the great black-and-white cinematography, as well as a stellar jazzy score add to what I love about The Criminal, and I’m excited to see it receive a new release that should introduce it to a new audience.
Alex: I’ve not seen a Losey film, so that “new audience” you’re describing will all but certainly include myself. Banned in Finland and various other countries for its violent portrayal of life in prison, The Criminal looks to be a little less sanitized than most films from the 50s-60s. The UK trailer for the film paints the film as an exposé about prison as well as conflicts between parties with competing interests within the prison. I’ll have to admit the jazzy score sounds like an interesting creative choice for the film, hopefully used to the same great (and unexpected) effect that jazz was used in Elevator to the Gallows.