Chloe Sevigny On the Totally Unexpected ‘Carnal’ Nude Scene in Her Lizzie Borden Drama — Sundance 2018

Some spoilers for “Lizzie” ahead.

Leave it to Chloe Sevigny and her long-time passion project “Lizzie” to unleash the first truly jaw-dropping scene of Sundance 2018. In Craig William Macneill’s take on the 1892 murders of Abby and Andrew Borden, long believed to be at the hand of Andrew’s daughter Lizzie (Sevigny), the infamous American criminal (she wasn’t ever convicted, but the court of public opinion is another matter) gets the chance to redraw her own history and motivations.

While Macneill’s film, which premiered at the Library theater on Friday night at Sundance, opens with the murders already completed in seriously bloody fashion, it then flashes back to the six months leading up to the horrific deaths. By the time Andrew and Abby bite it, Macneill and Sevigny, aided by Bryce Kass’ script, have made a strong case for why Lizzie did what she (might have) done, motivated by her nefarious dad and her forbidden love for family maid Bridget (Kristen Stewart).

It’s only then that Sevigny and Macneill unspool the film’s show-stopping sequence, which sees both Sevigny and Stewart stripping totally nude to do the deeds (all the better to not have bloody clothes to explain), resulting in a combination of body-centric terror that is both carnal and wholly shocking.

It’s a sequence that drew gasps from the audience, and plenty of appreciation, so when Sevigny and company (sadly, Stewart was not present at the premiere) hit the stage for a post-screening Q&A, it was one of the first things the audience asked about.


Like “Lizzie,” which gives a feminist treatment to Borden’s story – at the very least, it gives her big motivations and actual agency – the audience question was rooted in respect both for Sevingy and her character. This wasn’t a salacious query, and Sevigny responded in kind.

When asked how she found the confidence to perform such a grueling and violent scene while also being totally nude, Sevigny said, “It’s just a really carnal moment, and I just thought it would be really arresting. I trusted in Craig’s restraint and Noah’s [Greenberg, cinematographer] beautiful photography that they would make me look good. Now I feel extremely vulnerable! I just wanted the movie to kind of culminate, everybody’s kind of waiting for that moment, and when it happens, to have it be that arresting would make it so much more powerful.”

The actress was also eager to answer the question of confidence, adding, “I’m still not confident enough to really own that, but here I am! Watching all the cuts on this mini iPad, I was like, ‘oh wait, people are gonna see it like that’…On the day [we shot it], I had just turned 42, and I was like, ‘what 42-year-old woman does that?'”

The killin’ kind.

“Lizzie” premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘American Animals’ Review: A True Heist Story About Four Idiot Kids Who Fowled Up — Sundance 2018

“You’ve seen too many movies.” It’s a line that’s almost as old as the movies themselves. And yet, in reality, very few people have actually seen too many movies (and most of those people are film critics). More often than not, the trouble is that someone hasn’t seen enough movies. Case in point: Bart Layton’s “American Animals.”

Had the film-loving twentysomethings at the heart of this real-life heist story bothered to watch the “Rififi” DVD they rent from their local Blockbuster, perhaps they would have known how these stories usually end (though a deep knowledge of “Reservoir Dogs” doesn’t seem to faze them). Had any of them taken the time to revisit “Fight Club” (because there’s no way these kids haven’t seen “Fight Club”), perhaps they wouldn’t have needed to throw their lives away in order to make peace with the notion that they’re not as special as their mothers led them to believe.

But no, they’ve seen just enough movies to get themselves into trouble. Just enough movies to arrive at some very simple truths in the hardest way possible.

Appropriately, “American Animals” is nothing if not a movie that arrives at some very simple truths in the hardest way possible. A slick, well-acted, and intensely self-reflexive docudrama from the director of “The Impostor,” Layton’s first narrative feature (whatever that means) takes a remarkable footnote from our country’s recent history and sticks it inside an infinity mirror, creating a sort of Walmart Kiarostami that works too hard to sell its structure, and not hard enough to justify its subject.

“This is not based on a true story,” pledges the opening title card. But then, just as soon as you’ve had a nice chuckle, some of the words fade away: “This is a true story” reads what’s left.

“American Animals”

Layton quickly begins to make sense of that swagger. Taking us back in time to Lexington, Kentucky circa 2004, “American Animals” introduces us to a self-doubting artist named Spencer (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” breakout Barry Keoghan). Then, in no uncertain terms, it introduces to the real Spencer, who’s staring directly into the camera sometime in 2017. Talking head testimony from Spencer’s parents makes it clear that their son did something very wrong, and we’re going to hear about it as the people involved remember the events, however murky their memories might be.

The kind of thing that Robert Greene could make in his sleep if he ever wanted to go commercial, “American Animals” is essentially a narrative feature and a documentary spliced together and forced to compete for our faith. In most films of this nature, any re-enactments are subservient to the evidence, meant to add dimension to whatever the people are saying on screen. Layton’s trick is to flip the script, framing the gorgeously shot re-enactments as the movie’s default mode, and only cutting to the real people when they have some light to shed on the heist movie in progress.

That heist movie takes shape in a hurry, with the half-remembered fantasy increasingly adhering to genre norms as it goes along and falls apart. Spencer’s frustrations spark into action once he meets up with a football scholarship burnout named Warren (“X-Men” star Evan Peters, considerably more hostile and darkly charismatic than his goofy real-life counterpart). Overnight, they hatch a plan that’s too good to be true: They’re going to break into the special collection section of the Transylvania University Library — home to some of the most rarest books in the world — and steal John James Audubon’s massive tome, “The Birds of America.”

And maybe, if there’s time, also Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species” and some assorted other classics. Tens of millions of dollars worth of treasures, guarded by one prim middle-aged lady (Ann Dowd). It’s the perfect crime. Spencer and Warren recruit an unmotivated math guru (Jared Abrahamson) and a beefy overachiever (Blake Jenner) and they’re off to the races.

“American Animals” is fiercely entertaining from start to finish, even when its characters are acting so dumb that you start to suspect they still have some more evolving to do. Layton has a flair for translating cerebral documentary concepts into the universally accessible language of cinematic suspense, and he finds a number of clever ways to blur the line between reality and his hyper-stylized version of it. Details, like the color of a scarf, are as mutable as memories. At one point, Warren and the actor playing him share a conversation in the front seat of a car.

The distance between the movies and real life is enjoyably elastic, especially when Spencer’s crew doles out Tarantino-inspired nicknames and rehearses their plans to the Elvis tune from “Ocean’s Eleven.” The less said about the painfully obvious needle-drops the better, but it’s worth mentioning that “Hurdy Gurdy Man” belongs to “Zodiac” now. You don’t get to use it.

But amusement isn’t the problem — these kids were perfectly able to amuse themselves. The problem is that Layton over-relies on form in a film that needed a lot more to fill it out. There’s a tiny bit of lip service about Spencer’s frustration over not feeling special — about how desperately he wants something interesting to happen in his life — but it’s far too sketchy to serve as proper motivation for the heist. The other three members of his crew are even more underwritten, with Chas’ participation seemingly in direct contradiction with his personality and potential.

It’s easy to appreciate how these morons get carried away, and how thoroughly they delude themselves into thinking they have what it takes to neutralize even one old librarian, but their profound stupidity forms a closed loop, bouncing between past and present without ever meaningfully touching on anything besides their own entitlement. Layton’s attempt to complicate things only simplify them further, humiliating subjects who have already paid their debt to society. Spencer and co. haven’t seen too many movies, they’ve just cast themselves in the wrong one.

Grade: C+

“American Animals” premiered in the U.S. Dramatic Competition of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

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‘High Maintenance’ Season 2 Review: Don’t Be Clouded By the Smoke Surrounding TV’s Most Human Show

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “High Maintenance” Season 2, Episode 1, “Globo” follow.]

Near the beginning of “High Maintenance’s” fifth episode of Season 2, “Scromple,” a very unconventional preacher’s sermon includes the phrase “praise the miracle and the mess.” It’s an ethos which does a nice job of summing up the ways in which the HBO series embraces humanity’s best and worst impulses, our flaws and our screw-ups and our moments of grace, and an attitude which coming into 2018 brings with it almost a sense of healing.

Continuing to track the lives of New Yorkers struggling to get by on every level, the show never feels like it’s running away from its central premise, following a bike-riding pot dealer (known as the Guy, played by co-creator Ben Sinclair) servicing Manhattan and the greater New York area. But it has continued to evolve and grow with time, letting each episode build upon the last in a way that proves engrossing.

Yes, technically the series remains perfect for sampling, thanks to its relatively stand-alone plotting, but the reward for watching every episode is discovering just how large and vast Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s portrait of New York has become over the years. What might have felt like individual snapshots in the show’s earlier years have been revealed as small pieces of a beautiful mural, only growing richer and richer with each new installment.

Because, after all, the bulk of the people we meet are those who enjoy pot on some level, there aren’t too many investment bankers and government officials featured (sorry, anyone who might have hoped at one point for a “Billions” crossover).

But while many characters tend to represent a certain subset of the city population, the first five episodes not only emphasize people of color and LGBTQ representation, but also feature a variety of new stories, including a community of ex-Hasids, a middle-aged couple baffled by the Brooklyn lifestyle, and a look at the New York housing market from a few unique points-of-view. Everyone is introduced with understanding and affection, even the grating and self-obsessed, and also with an edge of self-awareness that keeps things from getting too cloying.

We also get to know the Guy better, as his personal life is blended into the narrative more — especially his relationship with his estranged wife, who recently left him for a woman (a storyline, first revealed at the end of Season 1, which echoes the real lives of the show’s formerly-married creators).

In general, storylines collide, characters intermingle, and the general weirdness of this city becomes beautiful to behold, as there’s a wider sense of perspective here than in years past, aided by a larger writing staff and new directors behind the camera (for the first time since the earliest web installments, Blichfeld and Sinclair don’t direct every episode, with “Newlyweeds” director Shaka Khan taking the reigns for episodes 3 and 4 of the season).

Perhaps the season’s strongest focus is found in the season premiere, “Globo,” which tracks a day in New York in which people wake up to discover “something bad happened.” What that “something” is never gets defined — not as mild as “Trump tweeted something moronic again,” but not so severe as a full-on terrorist attack — but we watch as the pressures surrounding this day have people turning to their vices to cope with the chaos.

High Maintenance Season 2 Episode 1

“Globo” doesn’t sugarcoat a day wrecked by the sort of national drama that trickles down to infect all of our psyches. The point is simply just trying to get by, by whatever means necessary — there’s a survival mindset in place here that seems to haunt every storyline, every character. And yet it’s the final moments of innocent joy, as a little boy’s balloon draws in a subway car full of seemingly exhausted, beaten people, that “High Maintenance” proves its capacity to elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary.

From the top down, this is a show that has such patience and empathy for its characters, even the most minute of roles, that it makes you want to get to know the people around you in real life better, open yourself up to their stories, discover their secrets within. Because while there might be unpleasant surprises, good things might also result.

“High Maintenance” has its eyes wide open about the world, but it chooses to see the magic that exists in the mundane whenever possible. And there’s still a lot more humanity left to explore.

Grade: A

“High Maintenance” airs Fridays at 11 p.m. on HBO. 

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