***½/**** starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton written by Jeff Fradley & Danny McBride & David Gordon Green directed by David Gordon Green
by Walter Chaw In the middle of David Gordon Green's Halloween--the night before Halloween, as it happens--a family is having a dinner to celebrate something and to meet the new boyfriend of their teen daughter when grandma shows up, drunk and possibly having a panic attack. It's already not going well, seeing as how mom is lying about having invited her mother to this little do--and when it starts going to hell, she uses the discomfort as justification for not having done it. "See? This is what I've had to put up with my whole life." The grandmother sits down and apologizes. She's spotted the man who once attacked her for the first time in forty years, and the shock has brought everything flooding back. She starts crying and no one is consoling her. It's an unbelievably topical moment in a smart, topical film, this suggestion that the effects of assault last a lifetime. That the horror of helplessness and victimization never entirely goes away.
*½/**** written by Mark Leidner directed by Yedidya Gorsetman
by Walter Chaw More earnest than truly clever, Yedidya Gorsetman's shoestring Empathy Inc is a competently-made (save for one dialogue sequence where the actors are clearly on different sets) and reasonably efficient take on the Vic Morrow instalment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. If it ends up resembling more the Primer version of "The Prisoner of Benda", well, so be it. The picture starts well enough, as corporate middle-manager Joel (Zack Robidas) finds himself the scapegoat of a start-up's collapse, destitute and forced to move in with wife Jessica's (Kathy Searle) demonic parents (Charmaine Reedy and Fenton Lawless). An exceedingly irritating dinner sequence early on highlights Joel and Jessica's desperate need to move out, and so Joel invests a cool million of his father-in-law's cash in a VR tech that allows wealthy sociopaths to pretend to be poor. It's an empathy-graft, see, and it works for Joel, who doesn't seem to need it--and anyway, it's not clear why feigning homelessness would give the Trumps empathy for the homeless (it's like a starfish developing empathy for circus performers if you put it on a unicycle), but there you have it. Needless to say, the way the tech works is more Source Code than those goggles you slide your iPhone into. Well-performed if underwritten, Empathy Inc relies overmuch on extreme angles (probably to hide the lo-fi and found sets), though Gorsetman demonstrates a good sense of who to cast and how to use them to the best of their abilities. Too bad Jessica is an afterthought, alternately harridan and helpmeet, with her entire aspiring-actor subplot at once too clearly a metaphor for the masks we wear and too murky for any other purpose. The biggest mistake, however, is aiming for profundity when it should've been looking for ways to explore its concept. It says something when a Shane Carruth film is more fun than yours.
Aterrados ***½/**** starring Maxi Ghione, Elvira Onetto, Norberto Gonzalo, George Lewis written and directed by Demián Rugna
LUCIFERINA ***/**** starring Sofía Del Tuffo, Marta Lubos, Pedro Merlo, Victoria Carreras written and directed by Gonzalo Calzada
by Walter Chaw Demián Rugna's Terrified is as if the ghost-hunter sequence in Poltergeist were the entire movie and instead of the one house, the entire street were haunted. It is, in other words, a lot of fun. The picture opens, as these things must, with paranormal shenanigans, which in this case involve spectral voices coming out of the kitchen pipes, leading to one of the great shock reveals in recent memory. Really. It's a kill so radically cool and unexpected that it's at once horrible and deliciously uncanny. Simultaneously, a next-door neighbour seems to have gone missing and in flashback we see what's been happening to him. Then the son of poor single mom Alicia (Julieta Vallina) gets run down in the street before showing up a few days later, black from rot and stinking of the grave, to sit quietly at the dinner table. I love the image of this horrible corpse seated in a sunny dining room while everyone stares at it. You can see the gears turning. And then its milk spills and I almost stood up and left. These abominations trigger the ex-cop living with Alicia, Funes (Maxi Ghione), to join forces with a trio of elderly academics--Jano (Norberto Gonzalo), Albreck (Elvira Onetto), and Rosentok (George Lewis)--to stake out the three houses in the hope of figuring out what's plaguing this quiet suburban street.
*/**** starring Jaden Piner, Rob Zabrecky, Aurora Perrineau, Charley Palmer Rothwell written by Luke Jaden & Diane Michelle directed by Luke Jaden
by Walter Chaw Luke Jaden's feature-length hyphenate debut (he co-wrote the script with Diane Michelle), Boo! is an insular family drama framed against a chain-letter premise involving one religious family's decision not to participate in paying a Halloween prank forward. What follows are a lot of jump scares and some on-the-nose dialogue that could have benefited, I think, from more workshopping. The problem is that the picture wants very badly to be about the toll of religious fundamentalism on the development of children (a well-taken point, of course), but it becomes the proselytizer itself with its straw-man of a bible-thumping patriarch, James (Rob Zabrecky), set up to bear the brunt of the film's sins. His constant references to the "good book" feel unnatural, rehearsed, what a movie evangelical would say. When his wife Elyse (Jill Marie Jones) reveals a tragedy in their past and her unwillingness to go to James at a point of crisis because of what he would say, it raises the question of how it is these people ended up together in the first place and why, exactly, Elyse has fallen from the flock, if in fact she's done so.
HE'S OUT THERE **/**** starring Yvonne Strahovski, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky, Ryan McDonald written by Mike Scannell directed by Quinn Lasher
HELL IS WHERE THE HOME IS ***/**** starring Angela Trimbur, Janel Parrish, Jonathan Howard, Fairuza Balk written by Corey Deshon directed by Orson Oblowitz
by Walter Chaw Centring on the manipulation of a mysterious and sinister children's book, Babadook-style, Quinn Lasher's sleek, technically proficient home-invasion/slasher flick He's Out There takes another page out of that film's playbook by putting kids (sisters Anna and Abigail Pniowsky) uncompromisingly and repeatedly in mortal peril. The set-up is a wilderness retreat to the lake house in the woods, where mom Laura (Yvonne Strahovski) is headed with her moppets in tow, her workaholic hubby Owen (Julian Bailey) promising to meet up with them later. This leaves our heroine alone with her kids and that creepy kids' book along with a story told by yokel Shawn (Justin Bruening) about horrific happenings at the ol' house, plus a missing kid (Ryan McDonald) who never was found, now that you mention it.
by Walter Chaw Summer seems to be lasting longer, the weather in general is more severe. If the '80s were about apocalyptic fears around the proliferation of atomic weapons and an unstable President, the '10s are about those same fears multiplied by the corporatized destruction of the planet and, in a stealthy sort of way, the rise of the genuinely ignorant as the arbiters of culture and government. When George W. was President, I was interested in the defense that he seemed like the drunk uncle you'd have at a backyard BBQ. He didn't read much, trumpeted his "C" average in school, made up words, started a war because someone was mean to his daddy. Idiots found him relatable and non-threatening; "Conservative Party" developed a more literal definition. I liked to suggest the President be someone who read more than you, did things you couldn't do, was actually smart and not Fredo-smaht!. The only thing this thirtysomething percent of Americans who still think Trump is great--either cynically and opportunistically, or because they're really just stupider than fuck--were ever right about is that their elected leader is the ultimate "trigger" for people who are their betters. Like psychopathic juvies tormenting their unit nurse, they think it's worth it to distress them. It feels good and new, and as the fires grow higher, so, too, does their ardour for their golden calf.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
****/**** DVD - Image A Sound A+ Extras A+ 4K UHD - Image A Sound A- Commentary A- starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker written and directed by Sam Raimi
by Walter ChawThe Evil Dead defies wisdom: It's an ultraviolent horror film made on a nothing budget (rumoured to have been in the neighbourhood of three-thousand dollars) that still manages to produce an enduring and brilliant performance and demonstrate (like a Dario Argento shocker) that gore, if it's perverse enough, can be the beginning and the end of horror. The product of Bruce Campbell's hilariously physical turn, of Sam Raimi's genius in fashioning dazzling camera moves, and of an uncredited Joel Coen's flair at the editing table, The Evil Dead bristles with life and joy. It is a testament to how bliss and the spark of inspiration can elevate a film of any budget in any genre from routine to sublime.
***/**** starring Ella Scott Lynch, Benedict Samuel, Heather Mitchell, Lewis Fitzgerald screenplay by David Barker and Lou Mentor directed by David Barker
by Walter Chaw David Barker's hyphenate debut Pimped reminds of Danny Boyle's feature debut Shallow Grave in that both are twisty, twisted chamber pieces revolving around bad behaviour that spins, mortally, out of control. It's sexy and sleek, shot every bit like an Adrian Lyne film obsessed with the mating rituals of the rich and beautiful. Opening in a lurid party scored to Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away," it intimates that what's to follow will be a bacchanal, unbridled in its indulgence in earthly delights. And it very nearly delivers on that. Worth noting that Pimped is just one of several of this year's films that seems invested in the conversation about women's empowerment and men's proclivities towards violence, sexual or otherwise. What's interesting about this conversation in horror is that it's a fairly common one. Of all the things it's on the vanguard of, horror has always been aware of the imbalance of sexual politics. With the topic now in the mainstream, small wonder that this genre, so often derided by even its more opportunistic creators (Danny Boyle among them, as it happens), has gained some measure of popular esteem. The more ignorant cultural critics have even been emboldened to opine that horror is not horror. Those who know, know that horror was always more likely to have these difficult midnight chats.
****/**** starring Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale, Riley Keough screenplay by Macon Blair, based on the novel by William Giraldi directed by Jeremy Saulnier
by Walter Chaw "There's something wrong with the sky," someone tells Russell (Jeffrey Wright). They wonder if he's noticed it. Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark is about mythologies--how they explain the capricious chaos of the world in terms understandable, using images that are universal to us. Mother, father, child, dark, blood, fire. He tells all of this complex story of revenge, betrayal, and the hunt in these broad archetypal strokes; it's a film written on a cave wall, and at the heart of it what are a movie and a cinema but images animated by a flicker to be told in the company of others? Hold the Dark is beautiful and spare in the way that only things told in primal, innate gestures can be, and its setting, an arctic Alaskan wilderness (played by Alberta, Canada), reflects that austerity. When there is dialogue, it's doggedly insufficient to the task of description and explication. Russell is a wolf expert and talks about how he sees a pack eating one of their young--something called "savaging" that happens when the environment is wrong in some way. It seems counterintuitive to devour the young, but sometimes, Hold the Dark suggests (without saying it), it can be an act of love.
***/**** Image A+ Sound B Extras B starring Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Busey, Oliver Clark screenplay by John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion and Frank Pierson directed by Frank Pierson
by Sydney Wegner Two-and-a-half hours ago, I didn't care one bit for Barbra Streisand. As a mega Kris Kristofferson fangirl, I was grudgingly willing to endure her performance alongside him in A Star is Born. I grew up with people who wouldn't be caught dead listening to her music; I'd never seen any of her movies. All I knew of her besides the larger-than-life fame and cloned dogs was her legendary ego. Diva, control freak, crazy, stuck-up--many of these distasteful adjectives stemming from the troubled production of A Star is Born. Despite its awards and box-office success (it was the third highest-grossing film of 1976), the years have not necessarily been kind, and almost every recent review has mentioned her presence as overwhelming the movie. That is, the lack of chemistry between the leads, the way the movie skips over chunks of badly-needed character development to make room for her songs, and the fashion disasters are frequent complaints with one common target: Babs.
*/**** written by Owen Long & Steven Weisman directed by Owen Long
by Walter Chaw Owen Long's Seeds aims for the bleachers, for which it should get some credit. It's a navel-gazing exercise in which Marcus Milton (Trevor Long), an aging Aschenbach with very particular appetites, returns to the family reserve one eternal twilight to act as babysitter to niece Lily (Andrea Chen--disastrously uneven) and her little brother Spencer (Garr Long). There, he pops pills and sees tentacles the film presents as a metaphor for the repressed sexual dysfunction he nurses within what appears to be an Asian fetish, what with the hooker he kills in the prologue montage and now his niece, who does her level best to seduce dear Uncle. Where to begin? For starters, there are way too many "waking from a nightmare" stings in this thing; and then there's that long seduction sequence in the middle where Chen tries to laugh on cue and ends up just demonstrating a different way to scowl. She's so badly outmatched by Long that it has the same effect as Sofia Coppola's performance in The Godfather III: namely, that everything gets fucked up because no one believes for a second that someone could be romantically interested in this construct. (Director Long does Chen no favours by letting this take through. Someone, at some point, should have said something.) In flashback, we see a young Lily bringing a shell with some mysterious tentacle creature inside it into the house, where, we presume, it's been gestating in the basement. Jungians will identify that all of this is the product of someone who skimmed the texts. Milton believes that his sick impulses are growing inside him like the Elder God is growing in the boiler, escalating to a few final moments in which all that repression leads to an explosion of his unexamined Shadow projection. What I'm trying to say is that Seeds is that roommate you got freshman year who has a man-bun, rock climbs, and is majoring in Cosmology. Give it this: the cinematography of Rhode Island looks great, and if you're going to fail, do it spectacularly.
by Walter Chaw An affectionate if standard talking heads-plus-clips documentary covering those last years of the hale British studio's run as they tried, from the late-'60s on, to compete with the new era of permissiveness and transgression in film, Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years, from Hammer authority Marcus Hearn (who's published multiple volumes on the subject), is lockstep, even dry alas, but indisputably informative. I was most interested in the revelation that Hammer had wanted to work with director Michael Reeves post-Witchfinder General but that Reeves died prematurely, leaving the very weird Hitchcock riff Crescendo as the relic of a lost collaboration. Anecdotes like how Madeline Smith from 1970's Taste the Blood of Dracula was a "complete virgin" fresh from convent school and thus badly-equipped to deal with that film's brothel scene and its accompanying male "naughty bits" are interesting-verging-on-appalling. Actually appalling are the recollections of the same movie's John Carson, who tells the story of how someone else on set hysterically went over the line and sexually harassed a co-star. There's another bit about the late addition of a rape to sex things up in the rapidly-changing social environment that is frankly unforgivable. The rest of it plays a lot like a Spinal Tap sort of thing where an increasingly desperate studio does a hippie movie with aged thirty-somethings (Dracula A.D. 1972) and allies itself with Run Run Shaw. All to capture zeitgeist in a bottle--to no avail. Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years is a nice piece as far as it goes, though as it's about curiosities that only the most die-hard fans will have seen, it feels like it should be a special feature in a comprehensive DVD box set rather than a standalone documentary.
*½/**** starring Joey King, Jack Kilmer, Andrea Savage, June Squibb written and directed by Becca Gleason
by Alice Stoehr Jamie (Joey King) sits beside her grandmother's deathbed as the old woman imparts some wisdom. "There's just one more thing," she says, "one thing in this world that you need to know. No one's gonna have the guts to tell you. I wish I had been prepared for it." Then, after all this build-up, the punchline: "Learn how to give a good blow job." So begins the coming-of-age story Summer '03, with an impish smile on grandma's face while Jamie gapes at her advice. June Squibb plays the the grandmother in a foul-mouthed mode familiar from her work as Bruce Dern's wife in Nebraska. Her character will flatline a few minutes of screen time later, but not before confessing at length to her progeny while "In the Hall of the Mountain King" swells on the soundtrack. She tells her daughter that she once locked her in a closet; implores her young grandson to enter gay conversion therapy; and reveals to Jamie's dad the existence of his secret biological father. Most of the film takes place over the following week, with the family in chaos (and blow jobs on Jamie's brain) as they plan the funeral.
*½/**** screenplay by Luke Foster directed by Bernhard Pucher
by Walter Chaw Bernhard Pucher's Ravers features a couple of nice kills, a couple of funny scenes, and a few underdeveloped character things that sap its momentum, robbing it of both a beginning and an end. Germaphobe Becky (Georgia Hirst) is a cub reporter for a no-nonsense editor (Natasha Henstridge) who tells her that in order for Becky to be taken seriously as a reporter for/by this no-nonsense editor, she has to get her hands dirty. Which is a problem for a germaphobe. Becky visits a toxic facility first and dons a hazmat suit for it while affable Ozzy (Danny Kirrane) risks it in T-shirt and lab coat. She's that kind of irritating. This leads to an invitation to a sick rave where, the prologue tells us, an experimental energy drink packed with testosterone is handed out to the participants. As long as the music is banging, there's not much of a problem. As soon as the music stops (or is Toto), watch out. A black drug dealer (Kamal Angelo Bolden) takes advantage of the 'roided-out raver zombies to work as his customers and muscle; he also tries to kill a cop and is basically irredeemable, which is sort of a problem. Also at issue is a subplot where it turns out that Becky is a lesbian, I guess, and she tries to save her poisoned girlfriend, Hannah (Manpreet Bambra), when shit gets real. It's an issue in the sense that it's raised for no reason, really, and represents one of two avenues (the other being toxic masculinity, of course) that are there in the text but unexplored once the killing starts. The Toto joke is good, the special effects are good, and some of the set-pieces are neat (I do like the bit about needing to play music to keep the monsters distracted), but long about the time twin epilogues drop--one about Becky writing it all up as a local newspaper scoop, the other about more bottles of the rage drink making its way into middle-America--you get the distinct impression it all would've been better had they just played it straight. Ravers outsmarts itself. I wish it hadn't.
by Walter ChawSam Ashurst's film of James Swanton's play "Frankenstein's Creature" is the best film of its kind since Spalding Gray and Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia. It solves the problem of shooting a static, one-set, one-man show with graceful, inventive technique. It's smart about what it does and an act of extraordinary brinkmanship that happens to pay off in spades. Both based in the UK, Messrs. Ashurst and Swanton were kind enough to chat with us from amidst the whirl and fury of London's FrightFest, where Frankenstein's Creature had its debut this past August. We started by talking about Mary Shelley's novel on the 200th anniversary of its publication:
***½/**** written by James Swanton directed by Sam Ashurst
by Walter Chaw Of all the remembrances and resurrections marking the 200th birthday of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, perhaps the most innovative is Sam Ashurst's document of James Swanton's one-man stage play Frankenstein's Creature, featuring Swanton as the monster on a single dilapidated set, delivering a ninety-minute tour de force monologue that zeroes in on the most-forgotten aspect of Shelley's novel: its wit. Swanton is by turns needling and pathetic, demanding attention and then declaring that he knows he's ugly...but look closer. He takes delight in his part in his "maker's" downfall, gleefully reenacting the execution of an innocent woman blamed for his misdeeds and portraying a side of the monster all but silenced since its most iconic popular cultural representation. Kenneth Branagh's version did its best to touch on the creature's eloquence yet saddled itself, inexplicably, with Robert De Niro's mean streets brogue. Here, Swanton presents a sensitive, fractured intelligence discovering rain for the first time, rivers, the beauty of a nature to which he is an abomination, and loving relationships from which he will eternally be rejected. He's like a murderous Oscar Wilde. It jibes with my memory of Shelley's monster, immortalized in a book that for the first years of its existence was thought to be the product of bad boy Romanticist poet Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Ashurst, with subtle and not-so-subtle double-exposures and spare camera movements, creates something that recalls, but is utterly distinct from, Jonathan Demme's document of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia. It's the best movie of its kind since. At its end, what's been represented is a voracious mind fed on Goethe and Milton, all of that failing to civilize the portion brutalized by the creature's rejection from his "father." The subtitle of Shelley's novel is "Or, the modern Prometheus"--and if the connection follows, this monster, the god's creation, is each of us. We shore fragments against our ruins, and as Swanton deconstructs himself, ripping his vestments from himself stitch-by-stolen-stitch, he reveals that we're broken. Beyond repair, I think.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
***/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas screenplay by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner, based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis directed by Mary Harron
by Bryant Frazer Books are often said to be "unfilmable," but it's the rare text that can be described as "unprintable." That was the fate that nearly befell Bret Easton Ellis's notoriously graphic first-person serial-killer memoir, American Psycho. Comprising mainly page after page of vacuous conversation among young and moneyed Wall Street types and littered with references to high-end brand names, American Psycho's internal monologue reveals the wealth-addled mindset of Patrick Bateman, an investment banker and tasteless sociopath who specializes in mergers and acquisitions and expresses himself through hateful diatribes, hilariously wrong-headed pop-culture critiques, and the occasional torturous homicide, described in sickening detail. As the book neared release, publisher Simon & Schuster faced pressure to drop it from both inside and outside the company. Feminists attacked it as a how-to manual for misogyny, murder, and mutilation. TIME published a passage about a woman being skinned, while SPY excerpted a scene describing oral sex with a severed head. S&S's own marketing department was reportedly queasy, and even the cover designer assigned to the book balked. Then, in November 1990, barely a month before its planned appearance on bookstore shelves, S&S yanked the book from its schedule. American Psycho survived, of course. Knopf picked it up and issued it as a Vintage paperback original in early 1991. But a number of booksellers declined to stock it, and a preponderance of critics excoriated it. Even so, it was enough of a success to catch the attention of producer Edward R. Pressman, who developed it as a feature project for Lionsgate, then an upstart film distributor based in Vancouver.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
****/**** BD - Image B- Sound A Extras A 4K UHD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A- starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw As tempting as it is to write the umpteenth dissertation on the importance and brilliance of John Carpenter's Halloween, it's almost enough to say that there is very possibly no other seminal Seventies film--not The Godfather, not Star Wars, perhaps not even Jaws--that has had a greater influence on popular culture. It's a movie about a fishbowl that exists now only in a fishbowl, a picture so examined that its sadistic ability to maintain an atmosphere of horrified anticipation is consumed by the intellectualization of its hedonism=death equation. A screening with fresh eyes reveals a picture and a filmmaker owing incalculable debts to Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.
****/**** written by Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, based on the poem by Harry Martinson directed by Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja
by Bill Chambers The opening credits of Aniara, the debut feature from short-film hyphenates Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, scroll like closing credits over images of earthly disasters, because of course they do: this is the end. Mars is the new West, and what's left of humanity--many of those faces scarred or deformed without comment--is packed aboard a new Noah's Ark bound for the red planet. It will take three weeks, but in the meantime enjoy all the amenities and luxuries of a high-end spa, and be sure to take advantage of the Mima lounge, where a digital godhead will tap into your memories and provide a soothing mental escape to Earth as you once knew it. Unfortunately for the colonists, a rogue screw strikes the ship's hull and Aniara is forced to empty its fuel tank. The captain, Chefone (Arvin Kananian), claims they just need to catch the orbit of a celestial body to get back on course, something that will take two years, max; the captain lies. MR (Isabelle Huppert-esque Emelie Jonsson) is a "mimarobe," sort of a combination tech support/apostle for Mima, which becomes a very popular attraction over time. So much so that it gets overwhelmed by all the despair it's having to tranquilize, and self-destructs. Although MR warned him of this outcome, Chefone disciplines her for it, because Mima was the opiate for Aniara's masses. Not their god, though--he, in his unchecked power, his command of his own "planet," is God, and he's decided to be the Old Testament kind.
***½/**** starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth screenplay by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox directed by Claire Denis
by Angelo Muredda If you took Twitter's word for it after the gala premiere of Claire Denis's High Life, which was apparently conceived in an off-the-cuff conversation with Vincent Gallo about life at the end of the world and briefly tinkered-with in the earliest days of its inception by Zadie Smith, you'd think the singular French filmmaker abandoned all her instincts to make an edgy sci-fi sex farce with the dildo chair from Burn After Reading. What a relief, then, to discover that High Life is indeed a Claire Denis film. A step removed from the spoiler-saturated breathlessness of the first hot takes, one finds something every bit as rattled and mournful a late work as Paul Schrader's First Reformed, and, like Trouble Every Day, no less structurally elusive or visceral than the rest of her oeuvre for being a work of genre.
by Bill Chambers Pity about Teen Spirit, since it opens so well. Elle Fanning scrolls through her MP3 player to find the perfect song to start things off. A beat drops, and then we get the usual assortment of corporate logos. There's another great moment early on, where Fanning, having turned down a ride home from a slurring stranger who comes on like a dirty old man, is waiting at a bus stop late at night when she spies a group of young hooligans heading in her direction. The camera swipes across Fanning from one potential threat to the other: a clever visual that shows she's between a rock and a hard place. She chooses the dirty old man, Vlad (Zlatko Buric). He's a bear, but at least she wouldn't be outnumbered. Director Max Minghella clearly inherited some filmmaking chops from his old man, the late Anthony Minghella, though he asserts his individuality by shooting in anamorphic widescreen (something Anthony eschewed despite specializing in epics), and his overall style is relatively spastic; I waited in vein for Minghella to resist a gratuitous edit or camera movement. Fanning, by the way, plays a teenage chanteuse named Violet, forced to hide her passion from her mother (Agnieszka Grochowska), a proud, stern Polish immigrant who just wants her daughter to wait tables with her and stop these pop-star pipe dreams. It's a cold, cruel world out there where men abandon their families, after all, so you need a job you can depend on.
by Walter Chaw Michael Moore is an often-terrible filmmaker and a repugnant human being. His films are scattershot and on the whole unhelpful. In a few meandering minutes of his new film, Fahrenheit 11/9, he notes that members of Trump's inner circle have invested in his films and that when given the opportunity to hold Trump's feet to the fire in a public forum, he played the Jimmy Fallon. He appears to be owning that he's part of this disaster, but it's not clear, ultimately, what the fuck he's on about. Moore also spends time with the teen survivors of the Parkland, FL shooting, in what seems like an attempt to borrow the glow of their youthful activism; with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for probably the same purpose; and then he spends some time doing his stunt bullshit by spraying a tanker full of Flint water onto the governor of Flint's lawn. What works in the film is his focus in on how the DNC actively betrayed the will of the people by overriding primary results in states like West Virginia, Michigan, and Montana in throwing the presidential nomination to the legendarily unpopular Hillary Clinton. He reminds that during the heat of the Flint crisis, President Obama flew in, performed the stunt of drinking Flint water (he didn't), then told a folksy story of how he probably ate some lead when he was a little kid and, shucks, he turned out fine. These moments are vital because they show why thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of devoted Democrat voters decided their votes didn't matter and, indeed, that Democrats cared about the poor exactly as much as Republicans do. The problem isn't that Trump is who he has always obviously been, right there out in the open (and proud of his vulgarity and ugliness); the problem is that the entrenched political establishment on every side had fallen into complacency and lost interest in any class other than their own. Outside of that thread, the rest of it, including an extended comparison of Trump to Hitler, is just Moore being the Left's Rush Limbaugh. When preaching to the choir, best to turn the camera on the choir: Fahrenheit 11/9 is gold when it's shaming the Left. I wish he'd spent more time doing that. Programme: TIFF Docs
**/**** starring Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Michael Gambon written and directed by Xavier Dolan
by Angelo MureddaEx-wunderkind, now regular old late-twentysomething Xavier Dolan follows up the Cannes-awarded It's Only the End of the World with his long-awaited English-language debut, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. Though he has from the start been a confessional filmmaker who, for better or worse, pours himself into his work--revisiting fraught relationships between bratty teen boys and their high-strung mothers and peppering in idiosyncratic song cues from Céline Dion and Oasis--his newest feels even more concretely anchored in his pet interests, telling the story of Rupert Turner, a young, queer child actor (Jacob Tremblay) who strikes up a long-standing epistolary friendship with the eponymous not-out TV star (Kit Harington) that sets the former on a path to adulthood and tanks the latter's career.
*½/**** written by Joel Edgerton, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley directed by Joel Edgerton
by Bill Chambers Even though it doesn't quite stick the landing, Joel Edgerton's The Gift was one of the more promising directorial debuts from an actor in recent years, but alas his sophomore feature barely ascends to heights from which to fall. Based on the memoir by Garrard "Jared" Conley, Boy Erased opens in the unpleasant dark of dawn as only-child Jared (Lucas Hedges, who either won or lost a coin toss with Timothée Chalamet) shares a deafeningly silent breakfast with his parents, Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Marshall (Russell Crowe, swollen to the proportions of a Charmin bear), before his first day at the ex-gay ministry Love In Action--a branding that oozes grim irony. Marshall is a Baptist preacher who owns a car dealership in the heartland; he is, in other words, awful, and when Jared returns from college less confident in his heterosexuality than ever, Marshall, scrambling to pre-empt any damage to his standing in the community, invites a couple of snake-oil salesmen into his home in the middle of the night to fix the problem. (As H.L. Mencken put it, "Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.") At this rehab centre, the residents are stripped of their possessions and their identities are tamped down in sexless white shirts. Activities include charting the sinners on one's family tree and, despite the place being co-ed, sorting the boys on a descending scale of manliness. It's all presided over by Victor Sykes (Edgerton himself; what does it say that Jared's three biggest adversaries are played by Australians?), a tacit closet case who strives for avuncular beneath the harsh judgments, leaving the dirty work to the visiting "success story" Flea inhabits with impressive rancour.
**½/**** starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key written by Fred Dekker & Shane Black directed by Shane Black
by Walter Chaw Shane Black's The Predator is about cultures built around, predicated upon, and interested in the deification of violence and dominance. It talks about how an entire alien civilization owes its technical and biological evolution to the refinement of tools used explicitly on big game, not unlike how our own technologies owe their evolution to porn and forever war. One running joke has a scientist--an evolutionary biologist (Olivia Munn), natch--saying that the things aren't so much "predators" as they are sports trophy hunters, like bass fishermen, say, but of course calling them "predators" is "cooler." All the men in the room agree. The only ones who don't are the woman and a suicidal black soldier (Trevante Rhodes)--not coincidentally, the characters most likely to be predated upon (woman, black, mentally-ill, even veterans) by their own culture. Being in a life-and-death struggle with a predator is cool because it's a question of survival for both; being the victim of one of Donald Trump's inbred children is not cool because it's some rich douchenozzle armed to the teeth hunting you for something to mount in the den of their third mistress's second winter home. The Predator, in other words, has much on its mind, despite that its execution is a trainwreck--a trainwreck overwhelmed by an eve-of-premiere scandal whereby Munn revealed that Black had enlisted one of his buddies, a convicted pederast, to play a scene with Munn as a perv who harasses her while jogging, without informing the production of his past. The layers of irony to this thing are like unpacking an onion.
**½/**** starring Sofia Boutella, Kiddy Smile, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub written and directed by Gaspar Noé
by Angelo Muredda It's hard out here for a Gaspar Noé hater. The France-based Argentine arthouse trickster surprised even himself at Cannes when his latest, Climax, got positive notices from some who had previously written him off as a snotty provocateur. (Noé has reliably yielded some of the finest mean criticism out there: Consider Mark Peranson likening Enter the Void, in his Cannes dispatch from 2009 for CINEMA SCOPE, to "Entering the void of the cavity that is Gaspar's brain.") Climax, by contrast, was supposed to be as innovative, fun, and watchable as his previous attempts at in-your-face fuckery were punishing.
***½/**** screenplay by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen, based on the novel by Lynda LaPlante directed by Steve McQueen
by Bill Chambers Sorry, Psycho. Killing off one movie star halfway through isn't cool. You know what's cool? Killing off three movie stars in the first five minutes. Widows casts Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the husbands, and while the title would seem to give away that they aren't long for this film's world, watching established leading men bite it so soon still creates an undeniable moment of cognitive dissonance. It's thrilling to see co-writer/director Steve McQueen use his cachet to these subversive ends, not to mention apply his formal sophistication to the crime movie. Which isn't to say he elevates it (we're talking about a genre that counts Anthony Mann and Jean-Pierre Melville among its pioneers)--more that Widows offers respite from a glut of John Wick wannabes and Neeson's own assembly-line thrillers. So, Widows. Viola Davis plays the rich one, Veronica. She lives in a swank condo overlooking Chicago that seems to have taken on the icy gleam of the bachelor pad from McQueen's Shame in the absence of Neeson's Harry, an idealized vision of whom haunts Veronica's imagination. (These scenes play like the distaff version of Neeson's The Grey.) Harry's partners were not as well off, and their wives, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), need money desperately enough that Alice's own mother (Jacki Weaver, perhaps inevitably) tells her to become a paid escort. Harry, it turns out, owed money to a crime lord, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who's now running for city council against golden child Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell). Manning wants Veronica to pay up, so she commits to robbing Mulligan and thus finishing what Harry started, enlisting Linda and Alice as her partners. None of them are career criminals, yet Veronica figures that if she can tailor the heist to their individual strengths, they just might pull it off.
by Angelo Muredda Pawel Pawlikowski follows up on the airless perfection of Ida with the ostensibly warmer but equally over-manicured and emotionally distant Cold War, a more historically trenchant La La Land for postwar Poland. Leave it to Pawlikowski, who never met a compelling, age-lined face he didn't want to frame in an artfully-arranged tableau, to mute even the potentially energizing opening montage of folk performers doing their bits before his ethnographic camera and its onscreen extension, the extended mic of pianist and recruiter Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, whose passing resemblance to Will Forte makes one yearn for the free comic pleasures of MacGruber). Wiktor's been tasked with putting together a nationalist throwback performance that as another, more committed officer of the state puts it, a bit ironically, should tap into the music of these rural folks' grandparents--that is to say, a culture "of pain and humiliation." It's in that process of, as MacGruber might say, putting together a team, that Wiktor meets his soon-to-be-star-crossed lover Zula (Joanna Kulig), a live-wire who auditions not with a humble song from the fields but a boisterous one from the movies. Zula's energy, alas, doesn't do much to raise the film's own temperature. To be sure, Wiktor and Zula's sad, state-crossing, decades-spanning affair, modelled after Pawlikowski's own parents' romantic history against the backdrop of the iron curtain, is intermittently moving. There is some allure in Cold War's elliptical, set-piece-based structure, which leaves its characters in, say, East Berlin only to pick them up in Paris or Yugoslavia years later, either refining their Communist anthems (now for Stalin!), performing in a jazz bar, or composing music for films. And, as expected, the deep black-and-white photography is never less than fetching--the cramped 4:3 frame an ideal if at this point too familiar canvas for a filmmaker who seems to love nothing more than to gently nudge his characters into off-kilter compositions that speak to the way they either come together or fall apart. But as in Ida, for all the effort on display, it's hard to shake the feeling that this isn't a little too easy for Pawlikowski, who, despite his personal connection to this material, ultimately delivers a desaturated version of The English Patient's more hard-won story of the violence wrought by the arbitrariness of state lines, populated by ciphers named after Mom and Dad. Programme: Special Presentations
by Walter Chaw About four scenes into Matteo Garrone's Dogman, I wondered if he was going to be able to keep it up: the invention, the escalating tension, the breathless feat of being something entirely novel. I've never seen anything like Dogman. It's a crime film, a tender picture about a father and his daughter, a look at poverty, a look at addiction and maybe mental illness, a critique of masculinity at its terminal extremities, and a withering conversation about what friendship can look like between two men. It's a film that feels like a fable sometimes; like neorealism at others. It's shockingly violent and then surpassingly tender. There's a monster in Dogman, too, and while it's easy to hate and fear him, there are moments where I felt myself hoping that someone could reach him. I could even feel myself wanting his approval. The picture is unusually smart about the human condition, even though its intelligence appears to be alien in nature. It's impossible to know from one minute to the next what's going to happen in Dogman, which isn't to say it makes no sense but rather that it makes perfect sense, once it happens. It's brilliant.
TRANSIT *½/**** starring Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman screenplay by Christian Petzold, based on the novel by Anna Seghers directed by Christian Petzold
Ying **/**** starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Qianyuan screenplay by Li Wei & Zhang Yimou directed by Zhang Yimou
by Bill Chambers If Christian Petzold's previous film, Phoenix, felt like a joke reverse-engineered with the slightest of pretexts to get us to a killer payoff, Transit feels more like his version of "The Aristocrats!", a shaggy-dog story intoxicated with its own brutal rambling--here almost literalized by third-person narration from a bartender (Matthias Brandt), who paraphrases conversations he had with our hero that are comically steeped in minutiae--on its way to a glib punchline. In Paris during the Occupation, Georg (Franz Rogowski, a downmarket Joaquin Phoenix) is entrusted with delivering two pieces of mail to a renowned novelist squirrelled away in a hotel: a letter from the man's estranged wife, and papers that will help him escape to freedom. The writer, alas, is but a stain when Georg gets there, and soon after he agrees to smuggle a dying man (Grégoire Monsaingeon) into Marseilles, where he can kill two birds with one stone by taking care of the author's unfinished business. Transit generates a moment of real frisson when Georg hops off the train in Marseilles: everything is modern, or at least postwar, including the melting-pot citizenry. I'm sure there's a definitive answer as to whether this is WWII as modern-dress Shakespeare, but for the rest of the movie, whenever something as benign as a contemporary bus advertisement appears, the film briefly and instantly becomes a "Man in the High Castle"-esque work of speculative fiction that curdles the blood, given how frighteningly close we are to resurrecting Hitler with the rise of nationalism on the world stage. One might ask why the characters are still dealing with "letters of transit" like they're in Casablanca (i.e., where are the computers?), but I took that as commentary on the dinosaur ideals of fascism itself. If fascism does one thing well, it's "rolling back" progress, currently the Republican party's favourite pastime.
Blindsone ***/**** written and directed by Tuva Novotny
by Bill Chambers I'm dense; I hadn't read anything about Blind Spot in advance, and it was a while before I realized I was watching a film that not only hadn't cut yet but was likely never going to. The picture opens with two adolescent girls getting dressed after gym class, scrolling through apps ("Look!" Thea (Nora Mathea Øien) says, waving her phone at her friend, who distantly acknowledges whatever it is she's supposed to see), and walking home from school together, which involves 11 uninterrupted minutes of mindless chatter. While admiring the awesome banality of it all, I somehow failed to notice that the film's form was dictating its commitment to verisimilitude. Maybe that's one of the blind spots to which the title refers--it seems to have a few meanings, both within the story being told and more metatextually. For instance, Thea returns to her family's apartment, has a little supper in front of the teevee while her stepmother, Maria (Pia Tjelta), tends to her baby brother, brushes her teeth, jots something in her diary, checks her phone, and then, for the first time, escapes our gaze, stepping out of frame into a literal blind spot, manufacturing a mystery out of those pivotal seconds before Thea, evidently, tries to kill herself by jumping out the window.
***½/**** starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón
by Walter Chaw Alfonso Cuarón retreats from the noisy silliness of Gravity to produce something more in line with his A Little Princess--a touch of Children of Men thrown in for topical relevance and actual gravity. It's all in black-and-white, no less, with a non-professional lead and Cuarón himself operating the camera, shooting in 65mm. What results is the slow but dulcet, small but sometimes impossibly large Roma, capturing the microcosm of the immigration question in one wealthy family's interactions with their native servants, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and Adela (Nancy Garcia), and what happens when the small tragedies of the day-to-day intersect with the larger tragedies of a world that doesn't care about them. The mistress of the house, Sofia (Marina de Tavira), her inconstant husband, Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), and the couple's four small children live in a posh house in Mexico City sometime in the late-1960s. (An event in the film that is probably the Tlateloco Massacre sets the events somewhere around October of 1968.) Cuarón has called Roma his most personal film, and so it is as he continually directs attention away from the larger events at play, back to the intimate upsets of this upper-class family and their subsistence-class help. The largest scene of the film, a riot that led to a deadly confrontation between students and the military, immediately reverts to Cleo and Sofia's aged mother-in-law, Teresa (Veronica Garcia), interrupted in the middle of a shopping trip.
**½/**** starring Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliott screenplay by Eric Roth and Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters directed by Bradley Cooper
by Angelo Muredda It says a lot about A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, that the most emotionally cathartic stuff pours out as freely in the incredible trailer and its savviest meme offspring, where diva Pokémon Jigglypuff croons the entrancing opening bars of Lady Gaga's big stage debut for a rapt audience, than it does in the actual film, a polished first-act pitch in search of a payoff. That everything after the titular birth seems like apocrypha, weirdly playing both too long and as if it's running at 1.5x speed, is disappointing given the first act's charm offensive, though you can't put the blame squarely on the multi-hyphenate's already-overtaxed shoulders. It's probably asking too much of this third official crack at material first made into a vehicle for Janet Gaynor in 1937 to expect it to offer a wholly fresh take on a vaguely eugenic premise about how one half of a creative power couple can only thrive while the other languishes in obscurity. A first-time helmer with a stake in how his character's tragic narrative trajectory plays out, Cooper seems at once fired up by the meet-cute potential of the premise, which he nails, and stuck at a creative crossroads with the more melancholy, sepia-toned stuff that probably first drew the previously-attached Clint Eastwood's attention.
Tuntematon mestari **½/**** written by Anna Heinämaa directed by Klaus Härö
by Bill Chambers Olavi (Heikki Nousiainen) looks like Michael Haneke and projects about the same cuddly warmth as an art dealer whose basement shop has never done better than break even. One day at the auction house he frequently trolls, Olavi is caught in the tractor beam of an unsigned portrait of Christ by an unidentified artist, perhaps seeing a vision of his younger self in the bearded figure. He has a hunch the piece is a bigger deal than the viperous auctioneer (Jakob Öhrman) knows, and decides to bid on it with money he'd get from a big resale in a Hail Mary for both his business and his legacy. There's no small irony in that, as he's just allowed his teenage grandson, Otto (Amos Brotherus), to intern for him and in his preoccupation with the painting--attributed, somewhat bewilderingly, to Russian master Ilya Repin despite bearing little resemblance to Repin's actual 1884 portrait of Christ--doesn't quite see the potentially lasting impact he's having on a directionless kid, which is far more profound than scoring "one last deal." Olavi has been estranged from Otto's mother, Lea (Pirjo Lonka), since his wife died. There's a scene where Olavi accepts a longstanding dinner invitation from his daughter just so he can hit her up for a loan and she tries not to show how shattered she is by his obliviousness to her struggles, financial and otherwise, as a single mother while simultaneously impressing upon him that this was the official last straw. The actors are credibly at cross-purposes here and their performances are lovely, but their characters' dynamic is frankly overfamiliar, if not tired; the moment Olavi is stopped short by Lea's voice on his answering machine early on in the picture, this subplot is already over. Surprisingly sentimental for a Finnish movie, One Last Deal is at its most gratifying when it's less "Death of a Salesman", more Roger Dodger, with Olavi teaching Otto unorthodox lessons in survival all but guaranteed to mold him into a miserable and penniless old man possessed of a few arcane skills. It's a relatively engrossing film when it's about a weird job that really didn't need to be dramatically embellished to land as soft tragedy. Programme: Contemporary World Cinema
by Angelo MureddaTo anyone who might still be labouring under the delusion that Frederick Wiseman's method is simply to point a camera at a bunch of bureaucrats and watch the policy talk and human foibles fly, there's now Monrovia, Indiana, one of the nonfiction master's fleetest, funniest, and most conspicuously structured films in some time. Though you could read it as a purposefully timely attempt to dig deep into the earth of a so-called flyover state that the so-called coastal elites attending slam-poetry readings at the New York Public Library might deride, the film more accurately suggests a minor B-side to the loftier work of its predecessor, Ex Libris, which, among other things, considered the library as a necessary and all-too-vulnerable point of contact between the working poor and a wider world that grows increasingly out of their reach. Monrovia, Indiana revels instead in the earthier pleasures of local institutions like Hot Rod's Barber Shop, where everyone gets the same military-grade haircut, and the surreal space of a grocery store that stocks Donald Duck's orange juice and lights its lemons, limes, and tomatoes like pop art.
Posledice **/**** written and directed by Darko Štante
by Bill Chambers A young woman escorts Andrej (Matej Zemljič) into the bedroom at a party but when the layers of clothing start coming off, he balks. She calls his manhood into question, and the next thing you know she's running out the door with a bloody mouth while he wraps his knuckles in a towel. Andrej, who looks mature but is apparently still a minor, appears in court, where his mother (Rosana Hribar) throws him spectacularly under the bus for his recent history of delinquency, emasculating him yet again. Back at home awaiting sentencing, he seethes; but hey, you do bad things, you gotta face the--smash-cut to the title in giant block letters--CONSEQUENCES (or POSLEDICE in the film's native Slovene). I don't know that I've ever encountered a movie so beset by its title, which feels like it should also be read aloud by Percy Rodriguez when it appears. It turns the picture into an after-school special, if not an alarmist educational reel from the '50s, in a way that calling it, say, "Karma," would not have. Andrej winds up at the Centre, a school for troubled kids that sounds rehabilitative on paper, yet the staff are too easily cowed by their feral charges, who are far more impressed with student gang leader Željko (Timon Šturbej). That goes double for the closeted Andrej, a good person deep down--we know because he dotes on a pet rat--drawn towards trouble by his attraction to bad boys. Actually, in this prison culture it seems that everyone is queer on the down-low, and Andrej falls into bed easily with Željko and his minions during their curfew-breaking evenings of debauchery. (The one woman on their crew is left largely to her own devices.) What Andrej fails or maybe refuses to see is that Željko doesn't share his yearning so much as he's an opportunist preying on it--that this is the tale of the scorpion and the frog and he, Andrej, is most definitely not the scorpion. In other words, if he dares defy Željko, there will be CONSEQUENCES. The film at least attempts to earn its scare-caps by showing that sometimes someone else will pay the price for your actions, in which case courting your comeuppance is no longer just self-flagellation, but I think it takes the wrong tack in punishing a confused gay teen for, ultimately, being a confused gay teen. (Again, take away that preachy title and Consequences gains considerable moral complexity.) Zemljič is very good, however, and smouldering even with the dickhead haircut of the alt right neo-Nazis. He seems poised for stardom, though I don't know how these things work in Slovenia. Programme: Discovery
****/**** starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
by Walter Chaw Imagine, if you can, that the leader of the country is ineffectual at best--an invalid, maybe, surrounded by vipers and sharks who do the real business of leading, feeding forever wars to enrich themselves, beholden to the monied upper classes who dictate advantageous-only-to-them policies around taxation. Imagine that this ruling class were devoted to nothing except their own leisure: besotted by firearms and obscure pastimes, throwing lavish parties, while the less fortunate (everyone else) died in wars that could be stopped if only they weren't so profitable. Yorgos Lanthimos's The Favourite is hilarious, but it would be even funnier if it weren't so absolutely spot-on about this mess we're in here in the United States--which is, apparently, spreading. The only comfort Lanthimos offers is that we're probably not in much worse shape than mankind has ever been. Cold comfort, indeed. The Favourite is not just one of the best movies of the year, it's the most topical, too, and the most hopeless as a result.
WHITE BOY RICK ***/**** starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jonathan Majors, Richie Merritt written by Andy Weiss and Logan & Noah Miller directed by Yann Demange
Manbiki kazoku ****/**** starring Lily Franky, Ando Sakura, Matsuoka Mayu, Kiki Kilin written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
by Walter Chaw Yann Demange's follow-up to his bruising, brilliant '71 is this ersatz Donnie Brasco true-crime epic. White Boy Rick details the rise and fall of underage drug kingpin/FBI informant Richard Wershe, Jr. (Richie Merritt--excellent), dubbed "white boy" by the black Detroit gang into which he inculcates himself as first a sort of mascot, then trusted lieutenant, then deep-cover betrayer, then ultimate usurper. White Boy Rick establishes Demange firmly as a formidable technical director. A scene set in a roller disco circa 1984 is as beautiful, lyrical, and effortless an evocation (and affectionate amplification) of time and space as the Cornelius Bros and Sister Rose dance sequence from BlacKkKlansman. A sudden spinout on an icy road later on carries with it the harsh kinetic immediacy and strong knowledge of space of Demange's '71. The film looks right and feels right. There's a scene at a drive-in where Rick takes a date to watch Footloose: a film that couldn't possibly be more alien to Rick's reality. Crucially, White Boy Rick behaves in the right way, too, demonstrating restraint when appropriate, naturalism where appropriate, and expressionism, especially in a sequence where Rick's junkie sister Dawn (Bel Powley, also excellent) is taken from a crackhouse against her will down a red-lit corridor strobed with shadows.
***½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A- starring Ken Ogata, Kenji Sawada, Yasosuke Bando, Toshiyuki Nagashima written by Paul Schrader and Leonard Schrader (Japanese screenplay by Cheiko Schrader) directed by Paul Schrader
by Bryant Frazer A little more than halfway through Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, a fragmented, multifaceted cinematic biography of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, Mishima expresses nostalgia for an afterlife that existed only in the distant past. "The average age for men in the Bronze Age was 18 and, in the Roman era, 22," Mishima reckons aloud, in voiceover. "Heaven must have been beautiful then. Today it must look dreadful." Like the rest of the film's narration, the passage is quoted from Mishima's published work, in this case an article he wrote in 1962, eight years before his death at the age of 45 by seppuku. "When a man reaches 40, he has no chance to die beautifully," Mishima continues. "No matter how he tries, he will die of decay. He must compel himself to live." In 1984, when he made this film, Paul Schrader was 38 years old. He had just come off the commercial misfire that was 1982's Cat People, a straightforward studio assignment he tailored to address his signature concerns about sex and death, putting them in the context of a dark fairytale with intimations of incest and bestiality. It wasn't a good experience. Coked out of his mind for much of the shoot, Schrader fell into a dead-end affair with Nastassja Kinski that he hoped was something more; she wanted nothing to do with him after the movie wrapped, and Cat People's disappointing box-office receipts closed the door on his Hollywood career. He thought of suicide. He scurried away from Hollywood, heading first to New York and then to Japan, in search of a life change. That's where Mishima came in.
**/**** starring Nicole Kidman, Tatiana Maslany, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi directed by Karyn Kusama
by Walter Chaw A laconic noir that promises for a while to be fierce before settling into being familiar, Karyn Kusama's Destroyer drips with style and atmosphere even if its destined-to-be-lauded central performance by Nicole Kidman lacks the same mystique. She plays LA Detective Erin Bell, a woman beset by demons of alcohol and regret that have left her looking cadaverous: rotted gums and hollow eyes. Most of the performance is fright make-up, the rest Kidman speaking breathily, heavily, and maybe overdoing the drunk swaying and slurring a tad. Erin's daughter Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) hates her, of course, and has taken to hanging out with much-older street tough Jay (Beau Knapp), probably just to piss her off. Erin's estranged husband Ethan (Scoot McNairy) seems nice, though, if scarred by her ferocious temper and penchant for vomiting and passing out, usually in that order. Kidman has been extraordinary in small, personal films like this. Her work in Birth is generational; Dogville, too. But Destroyer is too programmatic to make much of an impact. This kind of image-slumming is too familiar by now, and there's not one moment where it's not Nicole Kidman doing a performance up there. Pity.
**½/**** starring Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi written and directed by Olivier Assayas
by Walter Chaw The questions asked in and by Olivier Assayas's Non-Fiction are slippery and at times satisfying for that. This is his Hong Sang-Soo following a pair of Apichatpong Weerasethakuls (though he would say his films owe a bigger debt to Bresson)--a movie, in other words, involving the intricacies of relational dynamics, shot on what appears to be a shoestring and a lark over a long weekend among friends. Probably it's what one of his characters calls "auto-fiction," a blurred line between memoir and pure fiction, with the tension being that maybe there's not much of a difference after all between what's true and what's made up in the pursuit of truth. It's one of those movies that seems like a defense of concept, a response or an invitation to conversation for critics. (Assayas himself was one, once upon a time.) Even more, the picture suggests an auto-critical confession of sorts, yet I'm not sure of what. Past or present infidelities? A declaration that he's found peace at last? An apologia for indiscretions and a pathway to a more authentic life? Whatever Non-Fiction is, it's maybe just a little too clever for its own good.
ZERO STARS/**** starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina written by Matt Bai & Jay Carson & Jason Reitman directed by Jason Reitman
by Walter Chaw In 1988, Gary Hart, the democratic former senator from my home state of Colorado, was the front runner for the Presidency of the United States. About a week before the primary, which would have cemented his ascendancy to a post seemingly all but preordained, this guy--classically handsome, tall, masculine, progressive--did what powerful men in privileged positions sometimes do: he slept with a young woman who wanted a job with his campaign. That's a problem, but the problem is he dared the WASHINGTON POST to follow him; he touted his ethics and morals as a foundational plank to his platform, and when the MIAMI HERALD took him up on his dare, they discovered that he was maybe a serial philanderer who in those last halcyon days before the Internet, hadn't learned the voracious appetite the public has for a good, sleazy story concerning the tragic fall of kings. It's hardly ever the crime--it's almost always the cover-up. And in 1988, Jason Reitman's The Front Runner says, politicians weren't very good at the cover-up. Largely because the press was complicit in helping politicians, athletes, and other powerful men in powerful spheres keep sexual dalliances and abuses quiet. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, after all.
½*/**** starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Sissy Spacek written and directed by David Lowery
by Walter Chaw David Lowery follows up his enigmatic A Ghost Story with this slobbery, open-mouthed kiss to Robert Redford, in his alleged swan song to screen acting. Redford plays real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, who, in a blue suit and stupid hat, resumes his long career of traumatizing tellers and imparting folksy aphorisms after escaping from San Quentin. Seeing this life as his calling, Tucker was oft-described as seeming "happy," and so that's the tactic Lowery and Redford take towards this material, presenting everything as this bucolic Americana bullshit of the variety the elderly and the elderly-at-heart, especially, get off on and which Redford has made his stock-in-trade in his dotage. The only thing missing is an early-bird buffet as patrons enter the theatre. Tom Waits and Danny Glover play Tucker's sometime-partners in crime and poor Sissy Spacek is enlisted as his gal Jewel ("Well, y'sure look it!") to deliver "good-natured" to the assembled. Yes, Redford, one of the most exceptional and brilliant actors in film history, is now delivering the patented Robert Duvall elderly performance: repeating phrases, smiling in a non-specific way, and patting people's hands as they talk, complete with a wired hearing aid dangling from his ear.
***/**** starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott screenplay by Josh Singer directed by Damien Chazelle
by Walter Chaw Damien Chazelle's First Man is the Super 8 shrine for Terrence Malick that Oscar voters never knew they needed. It's a mutant clumping-together of The Tree of Life (all the sad Texas scenes) and Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff (all the astronaut stuff), mixed in with a few scenes that are gritty and true (most of them involving a frankly extraordinary Claire Foy), even if Chazelle remains overly fond of snap zooms and the handheld aesthetic in long shots. It's best, even exceptional, when it's not hagiography and passing fine when it's doing what it "ought" to be doing. Like playing a classical music waltz when stoic-to-the-point-of-deranged astronaut/engineer Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) initiates the first-ever orbital docking manoeuvre, because 2001: A Space Odyssey; or doing a little riff on Bill Conti's amazing score for The Right Stuff right before the first closed-cabin testing. Could be homage. Could be the movie just doing what seems right as a shorthand for emotional engagement. If that's the case, more's the pity, as Chazelle proves in the first thirty minutes or so of his film--which revolve around an orbital "bounce" for a test plane and the death of Armstrong's toddler daughter to cancer--that he's capable of evoking real emotion, and employing smart contrasts in style and action, if he would only let go of the desire to impress.
by Walter Chaw After a decade's absence, give or take, I started coming up to the Telluride Film Festival again six years ago at the urging of good friends whom I otherwise hardly see. I was in a bad place and they knew it. They didn't offer platitudes, they offered a challenge, and so one year I accepted it. The hardest thing to do for someone who's depressed sometimes is to accept help. I have come to find that the best gift you can give your friends who worry about you is to ask for help. The problem with depression is it tells you that you are a burden. It's exhausting.
***/**** starring Adam Ild Rohweder, Paulina Galazka, Pit Bukowski, Amanda Plummer written by Anna de Paoli & Linus de Paoli directed by Linus de Paoli
by Walter Chaw The storyline goes like this: Rey, the young woman in the new Star Wars trilogy, is a "Mary Sue"--a term used to describe a female character who is born fully-formed and, therefore, undeserving of her status as the hero of the story, any story. It's an argument made by mediocre men, usually mediocre white men, who have gathered together over social media to share their frustrations about how, essentially, their own worthiness has never been recognized by a world designed, now, to overlook and disdain them. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The parallel storyline is that women are usually murdered by men they know--ex-lovers or spurned would-be lovers--and that the best indicator for murderous gun violence is a history of domestic violence. We hold these truths now to be self-evident. And suddenly these mediocre men who used to get pushed into lockers and demeaned for their solitary interests are the masters of our culture, our industry, our government. There were warnings about this in films like The Last American Virgin and Revenge of the Nerds, remembering that the triumphant happy ending of the latter entailed one of the nerd heroes raping the girlfriend of the lead jock...and the girlfriend liking it a lot. Masculinity has always been this mash of the tragic and the toxic. It's irresolvable, though at least there can be better awareness.
by Walter ChawThe Night Sitter is awesome indeed. Partially crowdfunded via Kickstarter, it represents the feature debut of writing-directing duo Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco and their filmmaking collective Roller Disco Massacre. Just a couple of guys who love '80s horror and know how to use it in a sentence, Bruhn and Rocco were kind enough in the heat of this year's FrightFest to answer a few pressing questions. We started off talking about practical details of shooting The Night Sitter:
***/**** starring Elyse Dufour, Jack Champion, Jermaine Rivers, Amber Neukum written and directed by John Rocco and Abiel Bruhn
by Walter Chaw From the first synth chords of Rob Himebaugh's awesome '80s-inspired score; from the first glimpse of DP Scotty G. Field's gorgeous, neon-soaked lighting schemes; from the first look at world-weary heroine Amber (Elyse Dufour), herself a feat of lighting and colour coordination, The Night Sitter announces itself to be a major player. Filmmakers Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco's feature debut, it covers one really bad night in the life of poor, terrified Kevin (Jack Champion). His dad (Joe Walz) a wannabe reality-show host of one of those paranormal shows, hires Amber to sit for him and his girlfriend's (Deanna Meske) horrible kid, Ronnie (Bailey Campbell), leaving them alone with a locked door, behind which are all the demonic artifacts dad's been hoarding throughout his misspent career. That he's a loser is never a question (he times his reel to "accidentally" play for the benefit of pretty Amber), but he's a rich loser--meaning that as soon as dad is gone on his date, Amber calls her friends (Jermaine Rivers, Amber Neukum, J. Benedict Larmore) to come help her loot the place. Unfortunately, Ronnie has found where dad keeps the key to the demon room.
***½/**** starring Hani Furstenberg, Ishai Golan, Brynie Furstenberg, Lenny Ravich written by Ariel Cohen directed by Doron Paz & Yoav Paz
by Walter Chaw Hanna (Hani Furstenberg, The Loneliest Planet) is listening in while a council of elders gives her husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) the option of leaving her for being unable to provide a son for years after the loss of their child. It's 1673 Lithuania. There's a plague, so there's a lot of death, and there's palpable fear in the air. Fear, among the other things it attracts, is irresistible to religion, and one day in this small Jewish community in the middle of a wilderness, the villagers discover that the plague has returned to the countryside and is encroaching on their isolation. Naturally, they retreat into religion. Ted Chiang has a short story called "The Seventy-Two Letters". It takes Hebrew mythology and wonders what it would be like if religion were treated as science. (And maybe, you know, it is.) The seventy-two letters are the name of God. You write them on a small piece of paper and roll that tightly into a little scroll. Insert it in the mouth of a mud effigy to infuse it with life. What materializes is a guardian, a protector, a golem that can be guided to the extent your id can be guided. Dario Argento played with a version of this in Phenomena; George Romero did, too, with Monkey Shines. The Golem is the true fana.