Here are my review of Strawberry Mansion, Mass, and A Glitch in the Matrix, which played at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
It seems like there is always somebody saying that films are not original anymore. That movies are only franchises, remakes, or based on previous material. These people would be wrong, and it is a movie like Strawberry Mansion that proves just how original films still are. This is a colorful, weird, funny love story set in a dream fantasy world.
Set in 2035, lonely and boring James Preble (Kentucker Audley) works for the U.S. government taxing people’s dreams. Using a futuristic contraption, he goes into people’s dreams and audits everything that is in them, from trees to planes. When he visits the home of Arabella (Penny Fuller) to do a routine audit, he finds that all her dreams are on thousands of VHS-tapes and must go through each one to do a proper audit. But as dives deeper into Arabella’s dreams, he gets caught up in the dream world and sees that there might be a chance for him to fall in love.
I was in complete awe of the weirdness and originality of this movie. Imagine Christopher Nolan’s Inception but on heavy hallucinogenic drugs. There are frogs who are waiters and play the saxophone and sailors who are talking rats and that is only the beginning of the things that we see throughout the film. The vibrant colors illuminate the score grabs you and the experimental filmmaking techniques, which include the occasional cheesy backdrop and clay animation, brings you into the dreamscapes. There are also themes of propaganda and business influence on the government. Some of it might be too weird for some, but you have to love the ambition.
But at its core, Strawberry Mansion is a love story about a lonely, boring man who finds love in an unexpected way. It is not overly emotional, but you do feel for James and his journey to find love in these dreams. Audley’s subdued, dry performance really makes this part of the movie work and makes you feel for James. Strawberry Mansion is unlike any love story I’ve seen before and is a great reminder that there is still tons of originality in the movies.
As the credits rolled on writer/director Fran Kranz’s directorial debut, Mass, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. With just four main actors, one room, and a masterful screenplay, Mass manages to be an effective, emotional look at tragedy and loss.
Following a horrific tragedy, two couples, Richard (Reed Birney) and Linda (Ann Dowd), Jay (Jason Isaacs) and Gail (Martha Plimpton) meet at a small church for what appears to some sort of mediation between them. What transpires is an intense conversation between two parents suffering a horrific loss.
Mass is an acting and writing showcase. Kranz’s script tackles a ton of different topics and emotions. The film is heartbreaking, tragic, intense, infuriating, and cathartic. The dialog looks at a range of topics, from guilt, blame, forgiveness, gun control, mental health, grief and parenting. Though the subject matter can be very heavy, Kranz balances the subjects brilliantly, going from quiet to loud, sad to intense, all culminating in a powerful finale.
The performances by Birney, Dowd, Isaacs, and Plimpton are incredible. Each actor shares the screen equally and each shows a full range of emotions throughout the entire film. Every character is different and layered with different emotions as to what happened. From anger to apologetic to frustration, no character is a bad guy and each is reacting to the tragedy differently. Kranz also gives each actor their moment to shine and own the movie, with monologues and moments that are filled with raw, unfiltered emotion.
Mass will be a movie everyone will be talking about in 2021.
A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX
Director Rodney Ascher has established himself as a documentarian who wants to mess with our minds. With Room 237, Ascher took us down the roads of conspiracy theories surround Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. With The Nightmare, Ascher looked sleep paralysis and the people who have living nightmares in these states. These two movies solidified Ascher as a very interesting, mind-bending filmmaker.
Ascher’s latest film sounded like it would be his weirdest film to date but ends up being his weakest so far as a director. A Glitch in the Matrix is an unfocused, boring, overlong documentary that doesn’t know what it’s trying to say.
A Glitch in the Matrix starts off by looking at Simulation Theory, the theory that the world we are living in is actually a simulation, much like the world that the characters live in in 1999’s The Matrix. Ascher interviews people who believe this theory and we listen to them explain why they think this, whether it be déjà vu or the Mandela Effect or just basic coincidences, these people believe that we are living in this simulated world. I was really interested into learning about this and expected Ascher to maybe make me second guess my beliefs. The film doesn’t focus enough on this, however, and doesn’t have enough credibility to make you believe one ounce of this. Ascher only talks to a handful of people and though the interviews are somewhat interesting, the people end up sounding more like conspiracy theorists, which really hurts how serious we should be taking them.
Then the movie takes a turn and steers away from Simulation Theory and talks about the effect the movie The Matrix had on people, which includes a man shooting and killing his parents because he thought he was a character in The Matrix. The movie also focuses a lot of author Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novels and how closely they resembled the future. These both could have been solo documentaries on their own rather than being shoved into a documentary that already had a clear and fascinating point to make.
I was most interested in the Simulation Theory aspect of A Glitch in the Matrix, yet the film doesn’t focus enough on it to make convincing or interesting. The film doesn’t know what it wants to tell or how to tell it, something Ascher is usually great at doing.
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