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Fantastic Fest: ‘Slut in a Good Way’ – A Sexually Liberated Rom-Com

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In a longstanding stereotype of “locker room talk,” here comes a film that proves that women can hold their own in the sexually charged workplace atmosphere. Director Sophie Lorain brings audiences a French-Canadian romantic comedy that touches on the formerly untouchable. Slut in a Good Way is a refreshing take on raunchy romcoms that delves into insightful topics such as slut-shaming, self-respect, and the difference between love, sex, and intimacy.

After discovering that her beloved boyfriend is gay, 17-year old Charlotte (Marguerite Bouchard) decides to prove she is not emotionally dependent by taking a part-time job at a toy store with her two best friends and having rebound affairs with the various handsome older boys that work there. It is about a month when she has slept with every male employee at the store except for the charming Guillaume (Alex Godbout), with whom she shares genuine chemistry. After the humiliating revelation that she has slept with all the boys, it becomes a battle of the sexes and a fight against the double standards within the hotbed of promiscuity among the store employees. Her friends share different opinions on the matter with the cynical Megane (Romane Denis) believing that love is for fools and one should only have meaningless encounters, and the more romantic Aube (Rose Adam) having faith in true love and intimacy. Meanwhile, Charlotte struggles with her own ideas of self-worth and what it means to be a strong and independent woman.

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Slut in a Good Way introduces a new take on sexual politics and how a modern woman conducts herself. Charlotte meets two seemingly free-spirited older girls at work only to find out that they are just as judgmental as any traditional person. However, they eventually jump on the bandwagon and stand up against the boys who feel that the dynamic of the store is thrown off by the girls refusing to engage in meaningless sex with them. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s would-be suitor Guillaume doesn’t seem to care about her well-documented sexual history. Charlotte’s internal dilemma battling self-appointed shame and guilt plays a major factor in the film. The seemingly new moral seems to be: no one cares. No one cares who sleeps with whom. It is a radical idea but one that deserves to be addressed on film.

The film makes an interesting choice sticking to black-and-white cinematography. While it is lovely and oddly appropriate for a French-speaking film, the amount of potential eye-popping color in a story that takes place in a toy store seems like a shame to waste. The performances are grounded and well-acted, particularly that of the radical activist friend Megane, who provides the biggest laughs and wittiest dialogue.

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Slut in a Good Way is a simple low-stakes romantic comedy that delves into the raunch factor without going too far. It shows provides a character study of young women expressing their sense of self-empowerment while not sugarcoating the amount of shame, judgment, and self-doubt they must endure to get to their desired state of self-assurance. It also contains a tremendous amount of heart and insight that deserves to be addressed in future romantic comedies or female-centered comedies in general.

Fantastic Fest runs September 20 – September 27. Visit the official website for more information.

Sarah Truesdale is a movie (watching) monster that runs on black coffee, amber ale, and biscuits and gravy. She graduated from University of North Texas in 2014 with a degree in Radio/TV/Film and English and has been a contributing writer for various websites since. She also works as a concert videographer and editor for a music school in Austin, TX.

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Fantastic Fest

‘4×4’ Starts Steady, but Slips When Changing Gears

Fantastic Fest 2019

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When focused and self-contained, Mariano Cohn’s 4×4 slowly accelerates until seemingly primed to peel out toward a hectic finale. However, its attempt to finally peel out in telling the story of a small-time Argentinian thief held prisoner inside a deathtrap SUV, the film ultimately careens off the road into broader, muddled social issues that never quite ram home. 

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After cleverly breaking into a parked, pristine vehicle in an upscale Buenos Aires neighborhood, a young man named Ciro takes pleasure in swiping the stereo and urinating on the back seat. It’s clear he is making a statement against the haves in favor of the have-nots, while at the same time imagining himself in the kind of lifestyle that possesses such a smoothly upholstered vehicle and the chic sunglasses that come with it. The petty heist turns on a dime, however, as Ciro soon discovers that the SUV’s doors will not open, the windows don’t break, and there is effectively no way out of this machine.

After stupidly wounding himself in the leg while trying to shoot his way out (though somehow not suffering the deafness that would surely follow), Ciro receives a call from the owner: the calm voice on the other end of the line has been the victim of too many assaults and robberies to simply stand by anymore, and has decided to take matters into his own hands. He has created a trap, and has no intention of letting this street punk get away with something for which he feels society has far too long turned a blind eye to. Ciro is here to suffer for his sins, and over the course of the next fews days and nights, slow suffering is just what 4×4 depicts.

At first, the resourceful Ciro roots around like a caged animal, testing any possible weaknesses in his posh cell. A few cursory lines fill him and the audience in on how simple solutions to this predicament, like banging on the windows at passersby or honking the horn, won’t draw anyone’s attention — even the occasional ticket-giving police officer — and as long as viewers can buy into the albeit flawed logic of the premise, 4×4 rolls along as a smooth ride. Without food or water, Ciro’s rebelliousness is slowly broken down, and he is forced to engage with a mysterious man whose ultimate endgame is still somewhat unclear.

The first two-thirds of 4×4 takes place almost exclusively inside the vehicle, eliciting a growing tension from the claustrophobia. The confined space at times can feel suffocating even to those merely watching, though Cohn certainly keeps the visuals from getting dull by consistently finding new angles from which to shoot. That variety is of extreme importance during that first hour, as it not only prevents the same boredom that Ciro experiences from setting in on the audience, but also cleverly constructs the space to a point where viewers can practically sketch the layout of the vehicle from memory, giving the film a great (if somewhat intentionally torturous) you-are-there feel.

Throughout, Peter Lanzani admirably holds the camera’s attention as the increasingly beleaguered Ciro, managing to portray street-sharpened instincts beneath layers of general dimwittedness. He also finely balances Ciro’s foggy version of morality against earning sympathy for someone who is essentially still a violent criminal. It’s a turn that earns more respect as 4×4 goes on, as Lanzani simultaneously shows his darker side while reflexively casing potential neighborhood victims, yet also depicts an inner tenderness in his interactions with a chirping cricket that happens to be riding shotgun.

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Where 4×4 ultimately stalls is in its final act, which opens up the scope to the point that the film’s engine becomes flooded. Cohn is working with complex social issues here, but tries to wrap things up too fast and too neatly. The introduction of the tormentor, up to then a mere voice that’s both warm and chilling at the same time, ultimately backfires in a series of diatribes from both both sides of the problem. These platitudes are too tidy to be effective, and land with a resounding thud.

Still, the simmering that precedes the fizzle showcases how much can be done with so little. 4×4 can’t maintain an entire trip on cruise control, but while that tense, claustrophobic ride lasts, its an entertaining one.

Fantastic Fest runs September 19 – September 26. Visit the official website for more information.

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Stripped Down: ‘You Don’t Nomi’ Discussing the Polarizing Viewpoints of 1995 Cult Film ‘Showgirls’

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you don't nomi documentary

Showgirls has a notorious reputation as the most over-the-top, un-erotic erotic thriller in recent years. What was intended to be a career-making, hard-hitting drama that unveiled the dark gritty truth of life as a Vegas showgirl turned out to be an awkwardly acted, poorly written exploitation film disguised as a Lynchian satire that has been reviled and mocked by critics and viewers alike. However, it has garnered a fairly large cult following for its value as a so-bad-it’s-good camp classic. Filmmaker Jeffrey McHale has produced a feature-length video essay that cleverly discusses whether or not Showgirls is a masterpiece or a ‘piece of shit,’ and more importantly, how it can be both. 

You Don’t Nomi covers the basic arguments used to defend Showgirls, such as how the entertainingly campy acting and melodramatic writing has gained it a ‘guilty pleasure’ status and a large following in the LGBT community. However, Jeffrey McHale goes deeper into the inner workings of the film’s creative choices by comparing them to the other films of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s previous work at the time included the ultraviolent sci-fi satires RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990). What truly put him on the map in the U.S. however, was the blockbuster erotic thriller Basic Instinct in 1992, earning over $300 million despite mixed reviews. You Don’t Nomi argues that critics appreciated Verhoeven’s films when they satirized society with plenty of violence and just enough sex to titillate the audience. However, when sexuality was front and center with violence creeping in the background, audiences labeled him a pervert. The documentary compares recurring themes and visuals in several of Verhoeven’s films ranging from women vomiting, the use of mirrors, strong depictions of sexual violence, and political satire, trying to prove that Verhoeven is an auteur in his own right. Whether or not the audience is convinced remains to be seen. 

One may never believe that a schlocky film like Showgirls could have any emotional impact on a person. However, it did for New York actress April Kidwell. In an interview, Kidwell discusses dealing with severe post-traumatic stress after a sexual assault. She was eventually cast in back-to-back Elizabeth Berkeley roles as the Off-Broadway musical version of Jessie Spano and Nomi Malone. Despite the campy, parodic nature of her performance in Showgirls: The Musical!, Kidwell found empowerment and catharsis in her role, raising the argument that Nomi Malone was a symbol of feminist self-empowerment and sexuality. Her story brings much more heart than one would have predicted in a documentary mostly compiling drag shows and corny Joe Estzerhas dialogue. 

You Don’t Nomi easily could have been a run-of-the-mill YouTube video discussing standard arguments any cult film lover would have already known and been bored hearing again. However, McHale digs deep with critics, scholars, hardcore fans, actors, and writers to create a new level of discourse on such a seemingly silly topic. The film doesn’t necessarily choose a side and therefore can sometimes appear to lack direction but overall it makes for a fascinating watch and might encourage you to sit through Showgirls again. 

Fantastic Fest runs September 19 – September 26. Visit the official website for more information.

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‘Ride Your Wave’ Ebbs and Flows Between a Sickly Sweet Love Story and Poignant Coming-of-Age Tale

Fantastic Fest 2019

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Masaaki Yuasa’s latest anime, Ride Your Wave, starts off as a simple enough boy-meets-girl love story. However, the cutesy ukulele duets and handholding are over as quickly as they began, as devastation brings the summer loving to a crashing halt. Soon, the budding romance educes a journey of self-empowerment and healing in times of loneliness, loss, and unobtainable love. 

Hinako Mukaimizu (Rina Kawaei) is an inspiring oceanographer whose clumsiness is far too insufferable to be endearing. However, as uncoordinated as she is on land, she is as effortlessly graceful on a surfboard, capturing the attention and admiration of onlooking firefighters Minato (Ryota Katayose) and Wasabi. Minato and Hinako bond over a nostalgic J-Pop song called “Brand New Story” that eventually becomes their love anthem, and the catchy earwig that will inevitably make you hum along through your grit teeth. Hinako is immediately impressed that Minato is seemingly good at everything except surfing, and begins to teach him how to ride the waves.

Ride Your Wave

These surf sequences really emphasize the marvel of the hand drawn animation, as the vibrant cerulean waves take on a life of their own to the point that the ocean is a character itself. Hinako soon finds herself all alone with nothing but the ocean and “Brand New Story” to comfort her through a coping mechanism that treads the line between grief-stricken delirium and magical realism. Meanwhile, Minato is stuck between worlds, and finds new life in various bodies of water, lingering as a ghost in the machine — or more specifically, a ghost in an inflatable finless porpoise. 

The title Ride Your Wave refers not only to the literal surf lessons throughout the film, but the message to Hinako that she needs to stand tall on her own, which goes with the proverbial flow to endure whatever may come. The metaphor is a bit on the nose, and tends to hit the audience over the head, but it is a valid moral taught in a clever depiction. Throughout the film, Hinako struggles with basic adult tasks like cooking eggs, whereas Minato can expertly cook and brew his own coffee. At its core, Ride Your Wave is Hinako’s coming-of-age story — not only by showing her emotional trials and occupational struggles, but also her transition from being an awkward college student into a fully formed young woman. 

Hinako and Minato’s love story is a wholesome, tender, surprisingly chaste romance considering that they cannot touch for the majority of Ride Your Wave. What truly links them together is that they are each other’s hero, admiring and relying on one another for different reasons. They have an endearing give-and-take relationship, ebbing and flowing like the ocean they fell in love in. 

Ride Your Wave is an endearing effort that has a tremendous amount of heart in the face of a somber subject. Once you move past the hackneyed metaphors and mawkish puppy love, it is a mature story about growing up and finding light in a dark point in one’s life. Life is full of ups and downs. Might as well enjoy the ride. 

Fantastic Fest runs September 19 – September 26. Visit the official website for more information.

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