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‘En El Séptimo Día,’ In Plain Sight

What follows is a transcript of a talk I gave about En el Séptimo Día for the Westchester Film Club, where I often deliver lectures on new independent and foreign film releases.

This may sound odd, but I am very grateful to have watched this film with you fine people. As a critic I embrace any film that does its job well, regardless of the genre. But I admit I most embrace films that shed greater light on the human condition. En el Séptimo Día achieves this and then some by providing a window into the everyday challenges of an immigrant existence that is too often ignored in cinema.

It is, as David may have told you, the first feature in 15 years from much-revered Brooklyn independent director Jim McKay. A few weeks ago when we were discussing the biopic Mary Shelly, I said that a gifted and empathic person could tell any story regardless of race, gender or any other identity marker. This is very true of McKay, who made his mark with two no-budget movies, Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), which both depicted female high-school students of color. It’s safe to say McKay’s approach to filmmaking is classic neorealism, which I consider to be the opposite of reality TV. By this I mean that that through careful research, scripting, and casting he labors to achieve an accurate glimpse of woefully underrepresented subcultures. Continue Reading →

American Horror Stories (‘Rosemary’ Turns 50)

Rosemary’s Baby turns 50 today, and I’ve been thinking a ton about this film and about the genre of horror overall. For a few decades, dystopias were the alarm clock we all needed, but because the dystopia is now and no satire could possibly outstrip the grotesque burlesque that has capsized the highest chambers of the land, horror is the perfect lens for examining the greatest biases and ugliest fears prevailing in our dying (dead?) republic. That’s why Get Out blew everything else in 2017 out of the water, and that’s why films like The Exorcist and, yes, Rosemary’s Baby haunt us still. The former was about an America possessed–why else do you think it took place within spitting distance of Nixon’s White house?–and the latter was about the way that women are gaslit about everything including their own intellectual and reproductive powers. It’s also why I’m so flatly unimpressed by the emptyheaded Hereditary, the Toni Collette everything-and-the-kitchen-sink horror film that has everyone’s tongue a-flapping this month. Continue Reading →

Baptizing the Monster: ‘Mary Shelley’

What follows is a transcript of a talk I gave about the biopic Mary Shelley for the Westchester Film Club, where I often deliver lectures on new independent and foreign film releases.

The best way to discuss this film may be to unpack it like one of those Russian nesting dolls that stack level upon level upon level.

So let’s start with who is behind this lens. As David may have told you, it is directed by Haiffa al Mansour, who also cowrote the script with Emma Jensen. Haiffa’s first feature was 2013’s Wadjda, the first Saudi-Arabian film to be directed by a Saudi woman. That in itself is a mind-blowing accomplishment, given the restrictions women face in that country, but the movie itself, a coming-of-age story about a female tween rebel, is a wonder. I strongly recommend it if you have not already seen it. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy