Author: Lily Janiak

  • A Horror-Drama Centered on the Parents of a Stillborn Child, House in the Alley is Shoddily Plotted and Inconsistent

    For most of House in the Alley, the third feature by Le-Van Kiet, the only warm color you’ll see comes from the blood smeared on the walls and pooling on the floor from Thao’s (Ngo Thanh Van) stillborn child. The slate blues and pale greens with which Le-Van renders her sleek home and its Saigon […]

  • A Sentimental Yet Irreconcilable Friendship in Shepard and Dark

    If Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Sam Shepard, as he says in Shepard & Dark, has “always set [himself] up as a great enemy of sentimentality,” much of the documentary—the debut film of Treva Wurmfeld—takes the opposite tack. Wurmfeld explores Shepard’s 40-year correspondence with friend Johnny Dark, but her movie doesn’t read much from those letters, which […]

  • In 36 Saints, There Is Only the Senseless Curse

    Strip Catholic teaching bare, remove its overarching story, its context, its reaching toward God at the expense of man, and you have a dime-store horror novel chronicling ghastly deaths—of, say, Saint Stephen (stoned to death) or Saint Maria Goretti (stabbed 14 times by her attempted rapist). Add to the mix an obsession with an obscure […]

  • No Place on Earth Follows Ukranian Jews Into the Caves that Shielded them From Nazis

    Part The Diary of Anne Frank, part The Swiss Family Robinson, and part The Shawshank Redemption, No Place on Earth, about a Ukrainian Jewish family in WWII who hides from the Nazis by living in caves, has all the elements of a great story: an epic quest (survival), formidable obstacles (Nazis discovering each hiding place), […]

  • Mariachi Gringo Discovers a Mexico Simpler and Warmer Than Kansas

    In the opening minutes of Mariachi Gringo, director Tom Gustafson needs to show that Kansas is too desolate and oppressive a place for the brooding but golden-throated Ed (Shawn Ashmore), so he makes the blue skies harsh and depthless like wallpaper and the family dinners full of knife-scraping and forced jokes about the meat loaf. […]

  • 108 (Cuchillo de Palo): Bold Rule-Breaking

    Midway through the unhurried documentary 108 (Cuchillo de Palo), Renate Costa Perdomo, who writes and directs, asks her father Pedro, her chief interview subject, “Don’t you wonder what I’m doing?” Costa is investigating the mysterious death, years earlier, of his brother Rodolfo, and many of her interviewees—Rodolfo’s friends and neighbors, as well as former Asunción, […]