February 1, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Virtual Sundance Reviews: “Eight For Silver” & “The Sparks Brothers”


EIGHT FOR SILVER:  Sean Ellis’s 19th century werewolf movie takes itself very seriously.  Ellis has extensively revised the usual mythology of the genre:  the full moon doesn’t figure into things, the werewolf curse dates back to biblical times and relates to a set of silver teeth, there’s a political dimension to the story, and victims don’t transform in the way we’re used to seeing.  Much of this is quite interesting, but despite all the effort that’s gone into rethinking the tropes, Ellis’s film is oddly stodgy, with most of the chills coming from numerous nightmare sequences.  The set-up is that the local landowners have unleashed terror by their brutal massacre of a gypsy community that’s taken up residence, and shortly thereafter people begin to have those nightmares and disappear.  Luckily, pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) has come to town, and he has personal experience with this curse.  There are too many scenes of McBride explaining things that the audience had figured out long before, and Ellis, who shot the film himself on 35mm, features lots of people walking through dark forests and rooms by the light of candles and torches.  The beasts themselves are seen only in brief glimpses, although there’s one sequence, seemingly inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing, where we get to see what resides disturbingly inside them.  Eight For Silver qualifies under the “elevated horror” banner that has recently been used to describe films like The Witch and Midsommar, but it’s not quite as arrestingly strange as those works of auteurship.  It feels instead like a tale not quite certain whether it wants to blow up its genre or just rearrange it.

THE SPARKS BROTHERS:  I have to admit that before seeing Edgar Wright’s loving documentary, I’d never heard of Sparks, although I discovered through watching it that I’d had some glancing contact with them as the band who performed in the movie Rollercoaster.  (They also had ambitions for a movie career that foundered on unproduced Jacques Tati and Tim Burton projects, although they’ve finally had a new script directed by Leos Carax.)  Wright’s account left me feeling very well informed about the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, Los Angelenos who have been performing since the mid-1960s and have had their greatest successes in Europe as they’ve reinvented their music and style over and over again.  Despite their lack of a US breakout hit, they’re widely beloved by fans who appreciate the quirky, here represented by celebrities as varied as Jason Schwartzman, Beck, Amy Sherman-Pallodino and Daniel Pallodino, Neil Gaiman and Weird Al Yankovic.  Wright’s style here is busy and inventive, including animation and distinctive graphics; even the talking-head sections are often jazzed up in one way or another.  Despite all that imagination, Wright has taken an oddly dogged approach to the documentary’s structure, taking us through what seems to be every one of the band’s more than two dozen albums in sequential order.  Even though the fact that Sparks has remade itself so many times keeps things engaging, 140 minutes felt like a long time indeed by the (extended) end credits.  There are also the clearly deliberate decisions not to discuss either brother’s personal life in any way (other than a quick reference to a fling Russell had with Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Gos), and not to include any interview subject who isn’t a close colleague or a committed fan.  There is, it seems, no bigger fan of Sparks than Wright himself, and The Sparks Brothers may be best aimed at those who already feel the same way.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."