Notes from the Screener Pile: 2016.2

Longer reviews are coming soon, but here are some more cap-cap-capsule notes from the screener pile as award season bingeing continues!

(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Antonio Campos, Writ. Craig Silowich
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Timothy Simons
Before Howard Beale became the mad prophet of the airwaves, a local news reporter in Sarasota, Florida blew her brains out on the evening news. It is believed to be the first suicide on live TV. This tragedy gets a fully-loaded dramatization in Christine, which brings a wallop of a performance from Rebecca Hall as the ill-fated Christine Chubbuck.

Hall is one of those actresses who is good in everything she does, but despite her warm presence as the strong-headed sister in Please Give, the sensible tourist in Vicky Christina Barcelona, or the lone female role in The Town, nobody’s ever really given her a part into which she could sink her teeth. Until Christine, Hall’s credits show an actress who is consistently reliable. That’s it—reliable Rebecca Hall. The actress simply attacks the role of Christine Chubbuck and gives a mesmerising performance as a woman pushed far beyond the edge of a nervous breakdown by the demands of her job and her disgust for the philosophy of sensationalism corrupting the state of good journalism.

Her extremely awkward, brash, and volatile Chubbuck is a fascinating portrait of mental illness. She’s such an odd character, but Christine nevertheless seizes upon the thrill of blood and mayhem that Chubbuck disavows. As Hall’s speeding car hurtles closer and closer the wall that is Chubbuck’s final broadcast, Christine creates such a spellbinding character study that it’s impossible to look away from the uglier it gets.

Christine is now playing in limited release.

(USA, 96 min.)
Dir. Keith Maitland

The tragedy of gun violence gets a shock of life in Keith Maitland’s singular documentary Tower. This powerful animated doc chronicles the bloody saga at the University of Texas in August 1966 in which a lone gunman stormed the university clocktower and began shooting people on campus at random. The film recounts the experiences of survivors as they recall that tragic day. Their stories haunt the film as the animation stands in for the absence of archival images, although some live action footage makes the screen. The animation also challenges the shooter’s authority of the event because it defines the tragedy by the subjective experiences of the people who endured and survived it.

Even more effective are the voices of the dead. Like the survivors, Maitland has actors voices the words of the subjects’ younger selves. However, the survivors eventually appear and relate their feelings in their own words. The voices that do not return to the film, on the other hand, are very painful reminders of lives cut short. Tower is a tragic tale, but ultimately one of strength and community.

Tower is now playing in limited release.

(Czech Republic/UK/France, 120 min.)
Dir. Sean Ellis, Writ. Sean Ellis, Anthony Frewin
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan,Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerová, Harry Loyd, Toby Jones
Anthropoid is a stealthy thriller. This under-the-radar war pic is one of those films that might have gone places with the right festival boost, but it’s worth a look on home video as it dramatizes the tense true story of an operation to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, second in the Nazi ranks only to Hitler and Himmler and the architect behind the Final Solution. Cillain Murphy and Jamie Dornan star as two members of the Czech resistance who infiltrate their homeland with plans to redeem the country that’s fallen to Nazi rule. Director Sean Ellis plays out the espionage in tense and gritty interiors as the fighters plot their operation, but the real show is the film’s bravura third act in which the soldiers take the last stand in a church for six hours of gunfire. This intense finale ripples with visceral action and reverberates with cutting staccatos of violence. The performances at the centre of the film anchor it in emotional realism and psychological authenticity. Anthropoid digs into both the heroism and horror of war.

Anthopoid is available on home video.