A still from Palm Trees and Power Lines, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Palm Trees and Power Lines 

Jamie Dack’s shattering debut feature, based on her short of the same name, is anchored by a performance from newcomer Lily McInerny that is sure to rank among the year’s very best. She plays Lea, a teenager eager to escape her surroundings, who finds her ticket in an attractive man twice her age (Jonathan Tucker, whose mere presence evokes memories of Sofia Coppola’s similarly haunting “The Virgin Suicides”). His character provides a meticulous study in the art of grooming, as he isolates the girl from her peers, while assuring her that only he can see her special qualities, before revealing his true intentions. A key mark of a great actor is the ability to keep our attention rapt simply through listening, and McInerny is utterly mesmerizing as we see her studying Tucker, grasping onto hope even as cracks begin to form in his slick façade. An excruciatingly protracted shot deftly lensed by Chananun Chotrungroj of Lea as her newfound entrapment suddenly sinks in is utterly devastating. This is a cautionary tale that respects the complexity and conflicted soul of its protagonist not unlike Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, solidifying Dack and McInerny’s status as major talents.

Evan Rachel Wood appears in Phoenix Rising by Amy Berg, an official selection of the Special Screenings section at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Phoenix Rising

“We all start off as kids at some point, and for every person that is abused and whose life is changed and altered forever, the person who’s been abusing them has already been forever altered,” said Evan Rachel Wood during my interview with her for RogerEbert.com in 2018. We spoke mere weeks after her courageous testimony as a sexual assault survivor before the House Judiciary Committee, and our conversation primarily focused on her brilliant performance in Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s harrowing drama, “Allure,” in which she plays an abused woman who becomes an abuser. Now Wood is ready to open up about her own abuser, Marilyn Manson, in this new HBO documentary from director Amy Berg (“Deliver Us from Evil”), the first half of which screened at Sundance as a work in progress. Wood reveals how she was “essentially raped” on camera by Manson (whose own abusive childhood is touched on here) while filming his music video for “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” and details the efforts of her survivor-led nonprofit, the Phoenix Act, to pass legislation that protects victims of domestic violence. Apart from being one of the best actors of her generation, Wood has emerged as a major force for change in the industry, and with this film, she candidly shares her story in a way that will undoubtedly inspire countless others to do the same. 

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