The Voice in the Head (2015)

Speaking as someone who has dealt with mental illness for my entire life, “The Voice in the Head” brought a tear to my eye. Cyrus Trafford’s short film is a riveting and gut wrenching look at mental illness and how small the disparities are between those with a mental illness and those that perceive themselves as sane. Most of all, “The Voice in the Head” is a unique look at how often we jump to conclusions toward those with a mental illness or with people that seem to indicate mental illness. Too often in society has mental illness been stigmatized and demonized, and there are still too many individuals with zero understanding of psychological illness and how it can destroy lives and those around them.

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Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968)

I like the premise behind “Superargo,” and while he’s not the most competent superhero, I think in the serial world he could have thrived. The Spanish Italian superhero is a wrestler who once accidentally killed one of his opponents. Seeking redemption he spends his time as a superhero known as Superargo. Superargo is a man who has a ton of superpowers, none of which are ever too effective against his enemies in “The Faceless Giants.” He knows martial arts, and has the power to persuade people to do his bidding. He can also hover in mid-air as a means of meditation, can bend matter to his will, and is apparently bullet proof when it’s convenient to the narrative.

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Black Girl (La Noire de…) (1966): The Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

Director Ousmane Sembéne’s drama is less an art house film and more of an observational drama that explores how one woman’s idyllic views of French life traps her in to a life of indentured servitude. Actress M’Bissine Thérese Diop is great as Diouana, a young woman stuck in an African village who finds that her options there are limited. She’s not very capable of doing much but servant work and longs to see the world. When she gets a job with a wealthy couple, she’s taken to the French Riviera for the season and asked to live with them to work as their live in nanny. Diouana comes to France expecting luxury, shopping, amazing adventures, and exploration of the beaches.

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Kairo/Pulse (2001)

Kyoshi Kurosawa’s “Kairo” is a film dripping in terror that deliberately paces itself as a slow burning end of the world tale. Rather than an all out orgy of gore and carnage, “Pulse” eventually explodes in to something of a last gasp of humanity, and a civilization that ends in a whisper and somber whimper. “Kairo” is written as something of a two act structure where Kurosawa opts for a film that’s episode in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” and then smashes together in the stunning climax. Much of what we see seems and feels random in many places, and events collide allowing for a cogent unfolding of events that doesn’t just make sense but feels so meticulously planned from square one. What makes “Kairo” so haunting even when the credits have drawn to a close is the way the director opts less for splatter and gore, and more for a requiem that depicts mankind as a stain and nothing more.

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Beauty And The Beast (2014) [Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital]

Christophe Gans offers up a richly realized and absolutely beautiful vision of “Beauty and the Beast” that embraces the dark side and fantasy of the original story. While yes, Belle begins to fall In love with the Beast, and is even enticed by him, it’s also thanks his aggression and insistence on influencing her Stockholm syndrome. Belle does eventually find the beauty of living with the beast, in that she’s able to roam his massive castle and is capable of finding secrets and fun corners within it. She even plays hide and seek with dog like creatures that find a fascination with Belle. Gans’ direction is superb and absolutely mesmerizing, I can not stress that enough. Many of his wide shots, and pans are magnificent and he knows how to make the beast both enigmatic and terrifying. There’s even a marvelous moment where the Beast is looking out on to an invading army from his perch, resembling Lon Chaney from “Phantom of the Opera.”

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Bloodlands (2017) [FrightFest Glasgow 2017]

An Albanian family with inner turmoil finds itself in the middle of a “blood feud” following a clan reputed to be connected to a mountain witch steals from their business.

Written and directed by Steven Kastrissios, Bloodlands’ story is based in the folklore and traditions of the Balkans with a blood feud creating most of the stress to the characters and conflicts. The film develops as a drama for most of its run time with a few bits and pieces rooted in the horror genre until the epilogue which falls directly and completely in the horror genre. His characters feel rooted in reality while going through hell and back. The family is not perfect, they have issues, they argues, they seem to only by together because they have to or because society says they should at times, which all leads to feeling like a lot of dysfunctional families out there and makes the characters feel real. The father is strong headed while the mother is a gossiper who gets a lot of crap for it. Their kids show interest in leaving their country or at least area which is something most teens/young adults go through. The film shows this family in a true light, with their issues, loving each other warts and all. This family is the root of the film and basically the root of the story in every way possible.

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Blackhearts (2017)

As Norway prepares for one of its epic black metal festivals, 3 bands prepare to go and play their set there for the first time.  The film follows closely Hector from Columbia (leader of the band Luciferian), Sina from the Middle East where playing black metal is a jailable offense, and Kaiadas and his band mates (band Naer Mataron) through their preparation for the festival and what pushes them to play this type of music.  The film also explores the history of black metal in Norway, including a visit to the Rockheim museum in Trondheim, interviews and moments with members of bands such as Keep of Kalessin, Mayhem, and a few others.  Through seeing the lives of these musicians, what they believe in, and what they want to accomplish, the viewer can get a good idea of what black metal is all about and also learn about its history.

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Ma Vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini) (2017) (New York International Children’s Film Festival 2017)

Courgette (Zucchini) is a young boy who has had a tough life.  His father is gone and his bother drinks a lot of beer.  One day, something happens to his mother and he ends up placed in a group home.  Through learning to trust others with the other kids in the home, he also learns to love himself and others.

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