“That summer we were all waiting for democracy to start”: Dominga Sotomayor on ‘Too Late to Die Young’

Too Late to Die Young is Chilean writer-director Dominga Sotomayor’s third feature, though the first since her well-regarded debut, Thursday til Sunday (2012), to receive much international distribution. The new work feels of a piece with the breakthrough film in its focus on the perspective of children and their burgeoning awareness of the complexities of their family situations. At the same time, that focus in the new effort is more expansive, with the juggling of a larger ensemble of both young and adult characters, and more ambitious in its evocation of a specific period and a unique setting rooted in Sotomayor’s own upbringing.

Set in Chile in summer 1990, in the run-up to New Year’s Eve, the film follows teenagers Sofía (Demian Hernández) and Lucas (Antar Machado) and ten-year-old Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) facing various disappointments while living in a partially built ecological settlement in the mountains just off from Santiago. Lucas pines for Sofía; Sofía is drawn to an older man and also longs to move away from the commune to live with her estranged mother; and Clara searches for her missing dog. There is relatively little narrative incident, with Sotomayor favouring a shaggy hangout vibe above a story prone to any concrete definitions. The film’s political underpinnings – it’s set just after the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship – are unobtrusive, relegated to the briefest of period signifiers and occasional dialogue allusions.

I spoke to Sotomayor at the Locarno Festival in 2018, where she became the first woman ever to win the Leopard award for Best Direction…

Full interview for Sight & Sound

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The Perfection (Richard Shepard, 2018)

Early in The Perfection, one character admires her travelling companion’s ease with purchasing bus tickets for their tourist jaunt across China: “That would have taken me three hours,” she says, “and lots of manic hand gestures and then desperate crying and then probably we would have ended up in South Korea.”

In the moment, that line is simply self-deprecation about being an American abroad, but in retrospect it almost perfectly describes the journey the film takes. Desperate crying and manic hand gestures, some concerned with performing acts of violence, are imminent for both parties. The film’s venture to South Korea is only literal, though, in the sense that in tone, atmosphere, surprising gear shifts and content, the film resembles some of the most beloved Korean genre movies of the past two decades more than anything contemporary coming out of the USA, and one Korean filmmaker in particular. The Perfection feels more like Park Chan-wook making an American movie than Park’s actual American movie, Stoker, did…

Full review for Little White Lies

‘American Gods’ Season 2 (spoilers)

American Gods’ difficult sophomore season concluded better than it began, with its melancholic Mad Sweeney-focused penultimate instalment being the best of the whole eight-episode run. It was also the only episode that was wholly satisfying in terms of atmosphere, direction, story, character development and performance working together towards a coherent vision – or as coherent as American Gods, which now regularly seems to be opaque just for the sake of being opaque, can be…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Joe Penna on ‘Arctic’, Mads Mikkelsen, polar bears and YouTube

Arctic is a survival thriller in which Mads Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the Arctic Circle waiting for rescue, only for a helicopter that finds him to crash, killing the pilot and forcing Mikkelsen’s character to have to tend to a severely injured passenger while barely keeping himself alive.

It’s visceral, absorbing stuff. What is particularly noteworthy, though, is that director Joe Penna’s background is as a YouTube content producer for over 12 years – his main channel, as MysteryGuitarMan, has nearly 3 million subscribers and has racked up around 400 million video views.

How does someone goes from the culture of YouTube influencer to making their directorial debut (an on-location survival thriller in harsh terrain, shot in Iceland in under a month) with a major international star in a close to wordless performance? And not only that, but managing to get that debut feature to premiere at Cannes last year? We sit down with Penna to talk Mads, polar bears and more…

Full interview for VODzilla.co

‘Beats’: Brian Welsh on his 90s rave scene banger

Set in Scotland in 1994, Beats follows two teenage best friends, Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald), heading out for one final night together at an illegal rave before life takes them in different directions. Johnno’s family, encouraged by his de facto stepfather Robert (Brian Ferguson), are due to move to a newly built house in the distant suburbs. Spanner’s prospects, meanwhile, look next to zero in the context of local poverty and his relationship with his abusive criminal brother, Fido (Neil Leiper).

Directed and co-written by Brian Welsh, Beats is adapted from Kieran Hurley’s acclaimed one-man stage show, which presented converging stories in the wake of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act’s impact on rave culture. Section 63 of that act gave law enforcement the power to stop any gatherings of more than 20 people in open air settings when listening to music, “Wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.”

There’s an end of an era quality to the film’s portrayal of the 90s scene, and while raving didn’t disappear after 1994, the rest of the decade saw a form of it move into the more corporate club scene, heavy on brand image, where the experience, as influenced by those changes in the law, became more homogenised…

Full interview for the BFI

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (Rob Letterman, 2019)

With his background in CG animation, Goosebumps director Rob Letterman makes sense as a choice to helm the live-action translation of one of the 90s’ most enduring media properties. The best parts of this adaptation of the Pokémon games, based on 2016 spin-off Detective Pikachu, are the textures of its reimagined designs of beloved creatures from the series, which vary from cute to unsettling. If you don’t yet know what a Lickitung is, you might not forget after this.

Then again, maybe you will, because when it comes to making a story to engage a wider mass audience beyond the admittedly large established fanbase, the filmmakers don’t seem to have been that concerned with catching ‘em all…

Full review for SciFiNow