Ghost Light

Ghost Light is a clever take on theatre superstitions. You must never say the name of Shakespeare’s haunting play Macbeth in a theatre because it holds a curse. Instead, refer to it as “The Scottish Play.” Also, you must always leave a light burning in an empty theatre—a “ghost light.” The idea of the Macbeth curse came from rumors that a coven of witches objected to Shakespeare using real incantations so they placed a hex on the play and every production thereafter.

John Stimpson’s quirky horror-comedy takes place in the fields of Massachusetts where a group of ragtag summer stock actors will be performing Macbeth in a barn. Their production turns ghostly when one of them unleashes the fabled curse.

Ghost Light boasts a stellar cast of characters (and some who are Broadway legends) as recognizable theatre tropes: Carol Kane is a kooky, washed-up actress, Roger Bart is the frazzled director, and the hilarious Cary Elwes is a pompous and hammy actor who casts himself as Macbeth because he is a benefactor.

Shannyn Sossamon stands out the most as the actress who plays Lady Macbeth dealing with her own personal problems: she is dating Elwes’ character and cheating on him with Thomas (Tom Riley) who plays Banquo but covets the lead role. Sossamon conveys Liz Beth’s ennui and descent into madness with an alluring intensity. When her devious role on stage and off stage real life starts to converge, she starts to see blood on her hands like in the famous “Out, damned spot!” monologue.

The special effects used to bring the uncanny final production of Macbeth to life are excellent; they have a strange beauty and are quite well-made for a smaller-budget film. Ghost Light accurately depicts the camaraderie and minutiae of the thespian lifestyle. This offbeat tale of life imitating art puts a unique twist on theatre folklore. Stimpson interweaves supernatural eeriness and eccentric comedy with finesse.

The Issue With Elvis

The Issue With Elvis is another tale of an unlikely friendship between an adult and child. The gentle drama centers on Dr. Mercer, a scientist who lives alone in the mountains and comes across a boy named Elvis in the woods that lives in a rusty bus near an abandoned amusement park. Mercer brings the boy to his home and tries to help him. He has gotten used to his hermetic lifestyle, but there’s something about Elvis’ mysterious innocence that makes solitude seem less unappealing.

What sets The Issue With Elvis apart from other similar films is the relationship between the filmmakers. Charlotte Wincott directs with an intimate, loose style that brings out the innate chemistry of her husband and son as the lead roles; their interactions, which carry the entire film, are dynamic and visually interesting. Their pre-established familial connection combined with the on-location shooting in the sprawling woods lends the film a singular authenticity and raw feeling. Charlotte Wincott’s cozy interiors express Elvis’ growing comfort with Mercer.

Jeff Wincott has a measured warmth beneath his curt, logical surface as the isolated biologist. He’s exactly the kind of benevolent presence that Elvis needs in his life. As Elvis, Wincott’s son Wolfgang does not necessarily deliver a polished performance, nor would it be considered one of the greatest from a young performer; there are moments where he has a very flat affect and trouble finding words (or remembering lines?) but in a way, it works for his role as a traumatized child.

It’s also nice to see in this film a young person being so inquisitive about the outdoors instead of wanting to be inside playing video games all day. Elvis reinvigorates Mercer’s inner teacher and he happily lectures him on the machinations of the outdoors in his pleasant, robust voice. The only other characters in The Issue With Elvis are in stilted voiceovers over the phone.

The Issue With Elvis is a sweet character study that encourages viewers to have empathy for those with mental illness. As a story of a fractured family finding one another, it has familiar beats, but its good-hearted simplicity and roughness are charming.

Three Corners of Deception

Dr. Meleeka Clary writes, directs, and stars in Three Corners of Deception, a true passion project. The film explores a whirlwind romance that descends into an acrimonious divorce and custody battle. Clary uses the cathartic medium of cinema to criticize her ex and the unfair Hamilton County legal system. As such, it’s difficult to discern what is factual and what is colored by Clary’s heated emotional state. Much of it appears to be Clary’s attempt to rewrite her own personal history.

On a technical level, it’s a mess with hard-to-hear sound mixing and bizarre cinematography — but these can be chalked off to a first-time filmmaker and budget constraints. Amongst an amateurish ensemble, Clary stands out the most with her unapologetic chutzpah. But this is not enough to save the film’s glaring blemishes.

Three Corners of Deception attacks the people who have wronged Clary — her ex-husband, a number of judges, a doctor, and a court-appointed psychologist she calls “Dr. Liar.” She uses the playful device of having different actors portray the various personalities of her ex: Deceptive Melvin, Angry Melvin, Cheating Melvin, Mischievous Melvin, Suave Melvin, Romantic Melvin. It is a very confusing, slightly creative way to illustrate the frustrations of being with an untrustworthy partner.

This is a deeply personal film with an abstract vision. Clary uses Three Corners of Deception — all 139 minutes of it — to exorcise and hopefully make peace with her demons. Three Corners of Deception is a hot-blooded film that has very rough edges and is quite difficult to understand.

Lust Life Love

Lust Life Love is a kinkier, modernized version of Sex and City that follows Veronica (Stephanie Sellers), a blogger who shares her exploits as a bisexual polyamorist who frequently participates in threesomes, BDSM, and sex parties. Although Veronica enjoys her lifestyle, she must navigate society’s expectations for monogamy and her own jealousies that make open relationships difficult — especially when she meets Daniel (an endearing Jake Choi), an aspiring chef who excitedly dives into polyamory for the first time while his marriage crumbles.

Veronica starts to question the emotional stakes of her sexually fluid way of life when she becomes the subject of a documentary and her feelings for Daniel deepen, even more so when they add another partner, Maya (the magnetic Makeda Declet), who Daniel grows more attached to.

Stephanie Sellars is luminescent in the role with her serene disposition, soothing voice, and steady confidence. Sellars writes the script based on her autobiographical column in the New York Press and she directs alongside Benjamin Feuer. Since Sellars draws from her own experiences, the sexual scenes are titillating without being explorative. The filmmakers present the alternative subculture with careful thoughtfulness. In a cinematic landscape overwhelmed with sexless superheroes, it’s refreshing to see a film that deals with the adult issues of physical intimacy in such a frank manner.

Lust Life Love is a compelling depiction of a romantic life that is not typically seen on film, one that is told from the perspective of someone who has actually lived it. This lends an empathetic authenticity to the film that fascinates the viewer. It’s empowering to see a woman who unapologetically enjoys sex, particularly sex outside traditionalist boundaries. Sellars’ film is a bewitching, sex-positive delight.

Killing the Shepherd

Ta Opre’s Killing the Shepherd is an illuminating glimpse into a remote Zambian community dealing with starvation, poverty, and loss of wildlife. Opre explains in his booming narration that the African country was once overflowing with leopards, elephants, lions, and more. The documentary observes how members of a small village participate in poaching—not because of a machiavellian desire to slaughter innocent animals, but out of desperation to feed their families. This is a perspective on the polarizing subject that is rarely seen. 

It is humbling to get a firsthand look at a native community that does not have the technology or comfort that we take for granted, such as the ability to get food on an app with the swipe of a finger. Opre draws comparisons between the Zambians and ancient man in a beautiful sequence with cave drawings lit by a blazing fire that depict humanity’s prehistoric relationship with hunting wild animals for food. 

Killing the Shepherd is also a fascinating portrait of a strong female leader (America should take notes). A quiet yet mighty tribal chief strives to save her damaged community where there is impoverishment, no education, alcoholic men, and girls as young as fourteen impregnated and married to older men. The villagers’ candid interviews reveal the challenges and differences of those who live in the African wilds. 

Opre also focuses on the company Makasa Safaris and its wealthy white owners, the Norton family. On the surface, their relationship with the chief fulfills the typical white savior narrative that only rich, white outsiders can reform tribal communities. But Makasa does provide schools, clinics, and loans for the Zambians to start a business; they also show fishermen new techniques to catch more fish and stop over-harvesting. All of these efforts help feed the village and revitalize the once-thriving flora and fauna. 

Opre’s film combines standard talking heads with gorgeous cinematography of the rugged African plains and villagers working the earth. These stunning, slow-motion visuals underline humanity’s harmony with nature—its simplistic beauty and the effort it takes to survive by living off the land. Killing the Shepherd is an exquisitely shot documentary that tackles a controversial subject with gripping honesty and gives audiences a fascinating inside look at a vastly different culture.