Amy’s February Viewing Roundup 2024

February 13th, 2024

The new year is getting off to an inauspicious start given that only one woman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director despite the many excellent films directed by women. There were many worthy films this year for the Best Director category, but it would be nice to see a new generation of talent receive more recognition from the Academy of Motion Arts and Sciences. On a more positive note, there are many excellent films currently playing at local movie theaters that showcase female talent including POOR THINGS and ANATOMY OF A FALL. There are also some interesting indie films playing in art-house theaters, two of which I feature in the round-up but only one of which is worth your time.

Definitely Go See:

HOUSEHOLD SAINTS (Playing in Select Theaters): This 1993 film directed by Nancy Savoca has been digitally restored and re-released in theaters which is great news if you enjoy art-house fare and unique storytelling. HOUSEHOLD SAINTS represents the pinnacle of independent cinema during a brief shining moment when it was still flourishing.. This film tells a multi-generational story of an Italian-American family living in New York City during a bygone era when people took Roman Catholicism seriously and you didn’t need to be a multi-millionaire to live in lower Manhattan. The film centers on the lives of three women, each with a unique set of values that is the product of their immigrant heritage, mystical religious beliefs, and their place in a patriarchy that will determine their fate but which they have little control over. Lili Taylor-once the queen of quirky, off-beat films-stars as Teresa, the deeply religious third-generation Italian-American who may or may not be an actual Saint and is either experiencing hallucinations or a religious miracle in the tradition of Catholic saints. Her secularized and thoroughly Americanized parents suspect that their devout daughter may be mentally unstable and seek to have her placed in a convent. Teresa is coming of age in the late 1960s, a time of social upheaval and radical changes taking place in American cultural life. Women were fighting for-and gaining-more political freedom and greater opportunities, but Teresa is a mystical character who transcends the outside world. She forges a different path and in doing so attains a unique type of power that may allow her to achieve a type of immortality. This is one of those great quirky films that stays with you long after you leave the theater.

Don’t Waste Your Time and Money:

THE SWEET EAST (Playing in Select Theaters): THE SWEET EAST is one of those films that hold promise but ultimately disappoints. Seriously, how could such an interesting premise go so wrong? Presumably a satire about the increasing rot at the heart of the American experiment-gun violence, racism, etc.-it quickly devolves into an exercise in how not to portray a protagonist, male or female. The film centers on a high school student who is on a trip with her classmates to the nation’s capital. Lillian, the young protagonist, soon finds herself on her own after a shootout at a pizza restaurant. She embarks on a chaotic adventure where she encounters all types of caricatures of American life including a white supremacist with a penchant for Hitler who takes her in and provides her food and housing. He’s a repulsive character who espouses repulsive views, but none of this bothers freeloading Lillian in the slightest. She is shown sleeping in a blanket covered with images of swastikas, but this doesn’t set off alarm bells; perhaps she missed those pesky 20th Century history classes? She’s an empty vessel of a character. She’s not portrayed as being too young or naive to know better, she simply doesn’t possess the smarts or intellectual curiosity to care. As the violence and chaos grow, she remains strangely indifferent to the fate of those around her. The depiction of this teenage girl rings so hollow and utterly false that it may be one of the most vacuous portrayals of a female character I’ve ever seen in an independent film. She wanders from one unbelievable scenario to another, never demonstrating a speck of agency. But as depicted in the movie, there’s no point in trying to change one’s circumstances when she can count on always being rescued by a damaged and/or deranged man because apparently there are no normal males to be found anywhere on the eastern seaboard. The film is aiming for a fantastical feel but succeeds only in being contrived and fake. It’s presumably a satire about the United States, but in order for satire to work, it has to be funny and have something intelligent to say. This film fails on both counts. The audience most likely goes into this film with the understanding that America is a dysfunctional place, but it would have made for a far better film if the writer had an interesting take on why this has come to pass or even some small insight to contribute to the conversation.




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