****/**** screeplay by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, hereafter Spider-Verse, is a game-changer. It's American anime, essentially, an Akira moment for our film art that will sooner or later be identified as the definitive event where everything tilted forward. I hope sooner. More than beautiful, it's breathtaking. More than kinetic, it's alive. And more than just alive, it's seething with possibilities, self-awareness, a real vision of a future in which every decision in Hugh Everett's quantum tree produces an infinite series of branches. It's a manifestation of optimism. There's hope in Spider-Verse, along with a reminder that more people in these United States believe in progressive values than don't, no matter who the President is. Empathy and compassion hold the majority; there's a recognition we are essentially the same--the same desires, the same disappointments. When a father tells his son he's proud of him, it makes us cry because we identify with the entire spectrum of complexity such a conversation entails. When it happens in Spider-Verse, the son is unable to respond and the father is unable to see why, and the visual representation of the distance that can grow between fathers and sons is astonishingly pure. Turgenev never conceived a more graceful image on the subject. It's perfect.
***½/**** starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beal directed by James Wan
by Walter Chaw I don't think the DCEU was done any favours by the success of Christopher Nolan's exceptional Dark Knight trilogy, charting as it did a course of "grittiness" and topical social relevance that made the examination of its heroes' subconscious motivations the text rather than the middle to be teased out by generations of readers. When nerd culture took the bully pulpit, in many ways it took the mantle of being a bully, too. There is literally no way to review a comic-book movie without getting death threats: woe be to you if you don't like it--but if you do like it, you're probably not liking it in the right way. Making lockers to be pushed into virtual didn't, apparently, solve the problem of being a mediocre male looking to express dominance. There's a connection here to why comic-book movies about the troubles of sad white people are less and less current, while stuff like Black Panther, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and Wonder Woman are the tantalizing hope for a positive future. No accident that minority and marginalized filmmakers have found a way forward with this genre.
Tenebre ****/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras B starring Anthony Franciosa, Christian Borromeo, Mirella D'Angelo, Daria Nicolodi written and directed by Dario Argento
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Dario Argento is a stylist and a fan who pays attention. His films are shrines to Hitchcock in the way that Tarantino's are shrines to grindhouse exploitation: imitations that transcend imitation by understanding what made the originals work. Argento's movies invite you to engage with them at a meta-level to appreciate them intellectually, yet are so engaging on a visceral level that it's hardly a requirement. At their best, they're phantasmagorias mashing up stuff like Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, and Edgar Wallace with Antonioni and, of course, Hitchcock. At their worst, Argento's films either perilously discard the gialli pillars that provide touchstones for him in favour of gothic horror (his truly abominable takes on Phantom of the Opera and Dracula), or desperately try to recapture old glory (The Card Player, Sleepless, and, alas, Mother of Tears).
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A- starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie
by Walter Chaw As the title flatly states, Mission: Impossible: Fallout (hereafter Fallout), the sixth instalment in our very own Jackie Chan's signature series, will be about Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) emotional baggage, earned over twenty-plus years of saving the world from threats foreign, domestic, and auteur. The main personal casualty for Hunt is the disintegration of his marriage to Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who must remain a "ghost" so that she doesn't suffer the, yes, fallout from Ethan's hero work. She checks in every once in a while, Hunt's teammate Luther (Ving Rhames) tells Ethan's new flame, former MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). It's what keeps Ethan going. Accordingly, Fallout starts with an apocalyptic dream of Julia in the hands of maddog terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris)--the type of dream James Cameron used so effectively in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, where everyone turns to charcoal and flies apart. It's important to focus in on all of this because Fallout is about a very specific element of the myth of masculinity, this romanticizing of sacrifice and suffering that men must go through in order to protect the women in their lives. The best part of Martin Campbell's extremely good Casino Royale is when fatale Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) brings Bond (Daniel Craig) back from the dead and his first sentence is spent asking if she's okay. There's a scene like that at the end of Fallout as well when Hunt, back from the dead, apologizes to Julia for everything. It's the sentiment and the situation that makes men in the audience spring a manly leak. Hunt--even his name is a primordial gender assignation--is the avatar for male expectation, which casts his heroics in an odd light, I think: fantasies of male heroism played against grandiose, extravagant, paranoid delusions. I don't know now if I'm talking about Cruise or Hunt. Same, same.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan screenplay by Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel directed by Brad Peyton
by Walter ChawSilent Hill is still the best video-game movie, but points awarded to Brad Peyton for taking a flyer at adapting an old side-scrolling punchfest and giving it a standard sub-genre narrative. Rampage is the same kind, if not the same quality, of adaptation as the first Pirates of the Caribbean: an idea that makes no sense on paper that's unexpectedly decent in execution. Anyway, Rampage is the standard eco-horror conceit of evil scientists trying to engineer something evil for the military-industrial complex, which underestimates the controllability (and the evil) of the thing they're trying to make and thus endanger a lot of people/the world with their greed/godless curiosity. On the other side, there's beefy primatologist Davis (Dwayne Johnson, reuniting with San Andreas helmer Peyton) and a disgraced, formerly corrupt scientist named Dr. Kate (Naomie Harris), who enter into an uneasy partnership with government spook Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to counteract the Frankenstein that's been unleashed. Said Frankenstein being a growth agent or something that causes a wolf, an alligator, and Davis's best friend, George, an albino gorilla, to grow to gargantuan proportions--and become nigh invulnerable, to boot. Fans of the arcade game will note that this is faithful casting; they will also recognize the building-punching and helicopter-biting.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B- starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas written by Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Paul Rudd & Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari directed by Peyton Reed
by Bryant FrazerAnt-Man and the Wasp opens, like Ant-Man before it, inside Uncanny Valley, with one of those flashback scenes haunted by creepy, de-aged CG replicas of famous actors. Less than 40 seconds into the film, Cartoon Robot Michelle Pfeiffer widens and rolls her eyes in an unsettling, overdetermined gesture that feels no less artificial even if it's sourced from Pfeiffer's "real" work in front of a performance-capture camera. It's not just that CRMP's eyeballs seem so much more active than those of every other actor in the film--that could be put down to her individual style of emoting--but more that they don't quite sync up with the rest of her face. Sure, as crimes against nature go this one is minor; the similarly de-eldered Creepy Zombie Michael Douglas looming behind her is more distracting, with a deader face. Still it's an unforced error. Why go to these lengths? CRMP's presence is barely required in the film; in most of her scenes, she's already wearing a mask. And the scene offers no crucial information or insight.
****/**** starring Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck written and directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
by Walter Chaw The Coen Brothers' one-shot revival-in-spirit of DC's "Weird Western Tales," The Ballad of Buster Scruggs features six narratively-unrelated Old West challenges to genre mythology that are so practically effortless, so technically perfect, that the typical Coen payload of misanthropy and, yes, nihilism lands as particularly caustic. Binding each episode in this, a short-story anthology from our most literary filmmakers, is a conversation about how the American myth of self-actualization is indelibly stained by westward expansion, self-justified by the amoral equivocations of Manifest Destiny. It's about the lie of American exceptionalism, riffing on and shading stock hero archetypes like the gunfighter, the outlaw, the travelling troubadour, the prospector, the settlers of course, and the bounty hunter. The presentation is all a bit too much: it's too handsome (Inside Llewyn Davis cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel returns to the fold), too exquisitely choreographed, too...tricky? The moment the brothers frame a POV shot from the inside of a guitar, complete with suddenly-muffled singing and strumming, you realize the movie is maybe having some fun at your expense--that it is maybe, in fact, an asshole. "Misanthrope?" asks Buster (Tim Blake Nelson), reading his crimes off a wanted poster, "I don't hate my fellow man!" Dressed all in "white duds and pleasant demeanour," Buster may not be a misanthrope, but he's definitely an asshole, as well as a psychopath. It's an efficient, devastating dissection of the Gene Autry/Roy Rogers subgenre of western, in which cherub-faced, potato-bloated cowpokes settle land and cattle disputes, woo big-eyed women, and punctuate their acts of questionable heroism with a nice, wholesome tune. Howard Hawks had something to say about this in his brilliant, subversive Rio Bravo. Now the Coens are having a go.
**/**** starring Jessica Barden, Hayley Law, Brett Dier, Camila Mendes written and directed by Carly Stone
by Alice Stoehr Sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw wakes up in a hotel room after a fling with a Frenchman to find a thousand dollars on the nightstand. This is midway through "The Power of Female Sex," episode five of HBO's "Sex and the City". She summons her friends, sensualist Samantha and hard-headed Miranda, to ask them, "What exactly about me screams 'whore'?" Samantha counsels keeping the money; Miranda tosses around the word "hooker"; and Carrie weighs the gesture as either "an incredible compliment or an incredible insult." The episode has little to say about sex work and the attendant stigma beyond articulating some knee-jerk squeamishness. Twenty years have passed since then in the realms of feminism and pop culture. Twenty years, yet here's The New Romantic, a romcom with the same level of nuance on the subject of sex for money. Its heroine is Blake (Jessica Barden), a college senior who writes about her sparse sex life for the school paper. With the editor poised to take her column away, she tries to spice it up by interviewing a local "sugar baby"--a young woman who barters dates for luxury. It's not long before Blake herself is sipping wine opposite Ian (Timm Sharp), a well-off professor twice her age. Nor is it long before she, as a Nora Ephron devotee, starts to worry she might be sacrificing romance for the sake of journalistic material.
***½/**** starring Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, based on the book by Lee Israel directed by Marielle Heller
by Walter ChawCan You Ever Forgive Me? is about Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a gifted biographer who has achieved some small measure of success but lately finds herself unemployable, unloved, maybe unlovable. Her best friend calls her a "horrid cunt" and it's the nicest thing anyone says to her. Her agent, Marjorie (Jane Curtin), tells her that she needs to be nicer. Only successful people are allowed to display the full measure of Lee's misanthropy, she says; the full wrath of her lacerating wit and intimidating intelligence; the full portion of her knowledge and impatience with your lack of it. It's essentially the speech Crash gives Nuke in Bull Durham about fungus in his shower slippers. You get to be a slob when you're famous. When you're a slob and you're not, you're just pathetic and disgusting. I spent 36 hours in New York City once several years ago in circumstances very much like the one I'm in now: wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life, worrying that I'll never find it, worrying that I'll never get to do it if I do. It's frightening to think you won't achieve your goals. It's worse when you've achieved every single one of them and it means nothing to you, and so you're back at square one-ish. Luckily, though (well, maybe luckily), you do have this one skill...
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras C- starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace written by Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, based on the book by Ron Stallworth directed by Spike Lee
by Walter Chaw Colorado Springs is a big, modern, beautiful city. It's home to natural wonders like the Tolkien-sounding Garden of the Gods and the Cave of the Winds. Its zoo, perched on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain, is world class. Spencer Penrose built a shrine to his friend Will Rogers on that same mountain when Rogers died in a plane crash. Cheyenne Mountain is also where NORAD is housed, and Colorado Springs is also host to the United States Air Force Academy and, once upon a time, Focus on the Family. It's an ultra-conservative city just south of blue Denver, which is itself south of the trust-fund hippie commune of Boulder. And for a few years starting around 1925, there was no greater stronghold for the Klan in the United States than in Denver. In 1978, Ron Stallworth became the first African-American police officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department, and then the first detective when he went undercover to infiltrate a Kwame Ture speech at a black nightclub. In 1979, he answered an ad hoping to establish a chapter of the KKK in the Springs, posing over the telephone as a man who hated every non-white race, but especially "those blacks." A white counterpart attended meetings while Stallworth eventually gained the trust of then-Grand Wizard David Duke. Duke reached out to Stallworth recently because he was concerned he was going to be portrayed as a buffoon in Spike Lee's adaptation of Stallworth's memoir, BlacKkKlansman. I mean, if the hood fits... If there is one indicator of involvement with cults like this, it's deep-seated insecurity. It bears mentioning that Denver's old airport, Stapleton International Airport, is the namesake of five-time Denver Mayor Ben Stapleton, who was a high-ranking member and, until the end of his reign, vocal supporter of the Klan. The airport is gone, but the neighbourhood that replaced it still carries his name.
Opening this week are a few films we covered at festivals earlier in the year. Walter Chaw reviewed Jason Reitman's The Front Runner at Telluride, while I wrote about Boy Erased, Transit, and Bodied--all three of which were released in Toronto today--during TIFF (TIFF '17, in the case of Bodied). And be sure to check out our reviews of some other recent releases that may have escaped your attention, including The Old Man & the Gun, Monrovia, Indiana, and the great Burning.-Ed.
This is a nearly complete overview of FrightFest '18's short-films lineup, though technical issues unfortunately prevented us from screening Catcalls, Puppet Master, and Right Place Wrong Tim.-Ed.
by Walter Chaw
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE 1
We Summoned a Demon ***/**** (d. Chris McInroy) Funny how the coolest '80s throwback film that isn't It happens to be this short by Chris McInroy, which channels the light ethos of that era, with VHS nasties shock-effects scattered across its brisk, five-minute runtime. Idiots Kirk (Kirk Johnson) and Carlos (Carlos Larotta) attempt a little witchcraft by sacrificing a rooster and playing a record backwards on a plastic portable turntable. They're trying to make Kirk cool so he can ask out "Brenda" for tacos, but it doesn't work. Instead, they summon a demon (John Orr) from a neon-smoked Hell portal they can't control. Or can they? With its crackerjack timing, its tight script, and the effortless control and camaraderie of its leads, We Summoned a Demon works wonders in a short span. DP E.J. Enriquez's lighting schemes make the whole thing look like Michael Mann's The Keep, and, sometimes rare for shorts, the movie knows its length and absolutely murders its landing. Listen for composer Bird Peterson's smooth sax riff when Kirk finds his inner cool. Comedy is hard, guys; We Summoned A Demon is butter. (Scroll down to the end of these capsule reviews for an interview with Chris McInroy.)
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
*/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras A- starring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan directed by Ron Howard
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. In Roger Ebert's reviews of the original Star Wars trilogy, he mentions that one of the wonders of this universe is that the droids are thinking, feeling, emotional beings, thus making their torture in Return of the Jedi a visceral thing. In Ron Howard's expediently-extruded Solo: A Star Wars Story (hereafter Solo), a sassy robot named L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is fused into the Millennium Falcon spacecraft after being murdered in the middle of a slave and prisoner rebellion she's incited in another interchangeable industrial backwater. I mention this as a point of interest because L3 is the clumsy mouthpiece for broad progressive beliefs in a shockingly-bad script by father-son duo Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan. When Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) asks if there's anything else he can get her as he's leaving a room, she says, "Equal rights?" It's that kind of character. The kind usually workshopped out when the screenwriter--one of them, anyway--isn't the most powerful person in the room. She's Dobby the House Elf from a storyline smartly left out of the film adaptations of Harry Potter, screaming about "droid rights" during a droid Thunderdome sequence done better in everything (but particularly in A.I.), and there mainly I think so that replacement director Howard can slide his brother Clint into a self-satisfied cameo. So this character, liberating droids and releasing slaves and declaring that she's found her calling, is fused by a grieving Lando into his spaceship to spend the next eight or nine movies getting punched and abused by her new white masters whenever she doesn't work right away.
****/**** starring Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun screenplay by Oh Jung-mi & Lee Chang-dong, based on the short story "Barn Burning" by Haruki Murakami directed by Lee Chang-dong
by Walter Chaw When she was seven, she fell into a dry well and spent a day there, crying up into the round sky until he found her. She's Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), maybe 20 now, working as a live model with a bare midriff, standing on a busy street, dancing next to a prize-wheel and giving out "tacky" things to, predominantly, men buying raffle tickets from the pretty girl. He is Jongsu (Ah-in Yoo), of the perpetually slack expression. He doesn't remember the well, nor rescuing her from it, nor the day he stopped her in the street on the way home from junior high to tell her she was ugly. "It's the only thing you ever said to me," she remembers. "I had plastic surgery. Pretty, right?" she asks him, but it's rhetorical. They fuck in an awkward, desultory way, with him looking at how the sunlight bounces off a tower in downtown Seoul, into her tiny apartment. (She's told him he'd be lucky to see it.) He goes back there to feed her cat while she's in Africa, and masturbates absently to the afterimage of her picture as he stares out the window. When she returns from her trip, it's on the arm of sexy, urbane Ben (Stephen Yeun). Ben likes Haemi because she cries--he doesn't--and can fall asleep whenever and wherever. He enjoys her guilelessness. "What's a metaphor?" Haemi asks Ben. Ben smiles in his empty way and tells her to ask Jongsu. Jongsu is, after all, an aspiring writer. "[Ben]'s the Great Gatsby," Jongsu tells Haemi--young, wealthy, and mysterious. Jay Gatsby is a metaphor. Jongsu says that Korea is full of Gatsbys.
*/**** starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Mike Myers screenplay by Anthony McCarten directed by Bryan Singer
by Walter Chaw There's a real tragedy behind Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer's formula biopic of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Queen, and it's not Mercury's rise and fall and rise and fall and posthumous rise. No, it's that a life lived as rebuke to boxed-in functionality is now boxed into a functional, easy-to-parse package. Not the first person to say it but the only good version of this movie is Walk Hard, and there's never been a bad version of this movie, not really. It's oatmeal. It's always okay. I genuinely love Singer's X-Men films. Superman Returns is a masterpiece. There was a time when the idea of Singer doing this would've promised a keen, incisive coming-out melodrama, but even that's been neutered by Singer's defensive posturing against real-life, possibly criminal ugliness and its looming threat of legal repercussions. His well-publicized dismissal from the project in its eleventh hour is the most Mercury moment of the whole thing and it happened behind the scenes. When the most interesting scene in Bohemian Rhapsody is a contentious press conference where Mercury's sexuality is attacked as the movie warps and stutters around him, you get the sense of the On The Waterfront apologia that almost was rather than the sop to popular taste this is.
**½/**** Image C+ Audio A Extras A starring Gabriel Byrne, Patricia Arquette, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long screenplay by Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage directed by Rupert Wainwright
by Walter Chaw 1999 was an interesting year. The end of any millennium is accompanied by some kind of fin de siècle madness and the most recent one, in the United States anyway, was indicated by fears that the Y2K bug would launch our nuclear arsenal, cause airplanes to fall out of the sky, and end life as we knew it. It caused our movies to deal with technological folly (The Matrix, The Blair Witch Project, The Iron Giant, The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, Bicentennial Man), shifting identities (Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, The Sixth Sense, The Virgin Suicides, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Memento, Being John Malkovich), and general apocalyptic mood (Magnolia, The Ninth Gate, Arlington Road). Looking back, everything we needed to know about the coming conflagration was here in these few years leading up to 9/11. Amid so many fine genre choices (Stir of Echoes, Audition, The Limey, and so on), consider Rupert Wainwright's handsome Catholic muddle Stigmata, a hyper-extended music video that makes no sense whatsoever but still works because of Patricia Arquette's ineffable grace and Gabriel Byrne's unflappable cool. In its own way, the film is prescient, seeing that its bleach-bypassed, Fincherian ethos would take over as visual shorthand for the coming apocalypse. Expulsion from Eden is this final surrender to digital wonderlands: we lost most of our colour palette along with our innocence.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Sam Heughan screenplay by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson directed by Susanna Fogel
by Bryant Frazer The Spy Who Dumped Me is a lot--femme-centric rom-com, violent action-thriller, dopey spy farce, and genial paean to friendship in the face of adversity--and director Susanna Fogel revels in the tonal disparities from its opening sequence, which intercuts an enthusiastically mounted, bullet-riddled chase scene set in Vilnius, Lithuania, with scenes from a birthday party for Audrey Stockman (Mila Kunis), a 30-year-old grocery clerk who's just been blindsided by a break-up text from Drew Thayer (Justin Theroux), her boyfriend of one year. The party's been organized by Audrey's devoted pal Morgan (Kate McKinnon), an aspiring actress whose ceaseless shenanigans help blunt Audrey's sadness. It quickly becomes clear that, somehow, the guy hiding out from Lithuanian thugs in the gloomy, desaturated espionage thriller is Drew himself. When Morgan grabs Audrey's phone and sends a text calling him a "worthless nutsack" and promising to "set his shit on fire," Audrey gets a returned phone call from that other movie, in which Drew beseeches her to reconsider. Fogel keeps this up for a solid 10 minutes before the film's title appears on screen, and it's an intriguing overture.
MANDY ***/**** starring Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke screenplay by Panos Cosmatos & Aaron Stewart-Ahn directed by Panos Cosmatos
SUSPIRIA ****/**** starring Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz screenplay by David Kajganich, based on the screenplay by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi directed by Luca Guadagnino
by Walter Chaw Panos Cosmatos's Mandy is an old-fashioned acid trip of a movie--like if Head were directed by Rob Zombie. Indeed, the film it owes the most to is Zombie's exceptional mood piece Lords of Salem. It's already gained a fair deal of cult cachet (as well as a surprising/not-surprising box-office run), not the least for the best use of King Crimson since Children of Men (prog-rock is having a good 2018 between just this and Private Life), for the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's bliss-out score, and for an unhinged Nicolas Cage performance augmented by Viking berserker rage superpowers. Not for nothing is Mandy a period piece opening with Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, dissolving into a pixie-font title card setting the scene as "The Shadow Mountains" in the year of our lord, 1983. Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) is drawing "kinda like a jungle temple" in the remote home she shares with Red Miller (Cage). In bed, they talk about their favourite planets (hers: Jupiter, for the storms; his: Saturn, probably--no, wait, "Galactus") as Cosmatos bathes them in neon reds, then pans up into the Northern Lights arrayed above them. They canoe and it's so beautiful, the wave patterns and the blue, so blue it's almost lurid. Fire, then, a screen of it. All the elements will be represented here as metaphor for the completeness of their bond. It's not subtle. Now's not the time for subtlety.
Note: all framegrabs were sourced from the 4K UHD disc
**/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer directed by Catherine Hardwicke
by Bryant Frazer Author Stephenie Meyer says she wrote her first novel, Twilight, in three months' time, after the central idea came to her in a dream. Leaving aside the question of whether the notion of a moody teen vampire love story set in and around a high school in the Pacific Northwest is remarkable enough to require that the Muses mainline it directly into your subconscious, the romance of Bella Swan, a quiet, self-abnegating high-schooler from a broken home, and Edward Cullen, a smoking-hot vampire who sparkles under sunlight and has sworn off human flesh, hit a sweet spot. Teenage girls, especially, responded en masse to Meyer's vision of a smouldering, beautiful boy with the power to end your life at any moment but the grace and restraint to keep his hands to himself. Can you tame him? These sexual politics feel retrograde--the lovestruck nymphet at the mercy of a man forever struggling to keep his carnal desires at bay--but I try to steer clear of kink-shaming. If a strange relationship makes you swoon, whether it's molded into Twilight's denial-of-desire shtick or 50 Shades' bondage spectacle, that's your business and the movies can give you a way to explore that. Disapproving thinkpieces will blossom; feminism will survive.
Un couteau dans le coeur ***½/**** starring Vanessa Paradis, Nicolas Maury, Kate Moran, Jonathan Genet screenplay by Yann Gonzalez, Cristiano Mangione directed by Yann Gonzalez
by Walter Chaw Yann Gonzalez's Knife + Heart is a smart film by a smart filmmaker. It's a movie-lover's fugue, a tribute to the heyday of gay porn and the grindhouse theatres that showed it, a salute to editors, a shrine to multi-cultural myths about birds. It's a deep well with obvious pleasures, a film with a recognizable structure complete with solution that still manages to avoid the standard exposition and perfunctory resolution. The spiritual brother to Brian De Palma's Body Double (exploitative and sleazy and also commentary on exploitation and sleaze), it's a movie about looking that has as its central image a blind grackle--an extinct variety of the common pest that used to bring folks back from the dead by burning off the ever-after as it flew too close to the sun. Its central couple is gay-porn director Anne (Vanessa Paradis) and her editor and former lover Lois (Kate Moran), who churn out the sort of softcore masterpieces of art-film erotica favoured once upon a time by your Kenneth Angers, your Paul Morrisseys and Radley Metzgers. All of her work is autobiographical in some way. There's no line separating Anne's reality, nor her dreamlife, from the mindscreen of her movies.
BIG KILL */**** starring Christoph Sanders, Jason Patric, Michael Paré, Danny Trejo written and directed by Scott Martin
The ToyBox *½/**** starring Mischa Barton, Jeff Denton, Brian Nagel, Denise Richards screenplay by Jeff Denton directed by Tom Nagel
Watch The Toybox on iTunes
by Walter Chaw Triple-threat Scott Martin's Big Kill--he's the writer/director/co-star of the film--is an old-timey western for people who think Silverado is an old-timey western. Really what it resembles is a distended episode of "Alias Smith & Jones", where a pair of raffish, well-meaning ne'er-do-wells spend time in various clichés interacting with a stock company of NPCs that populate movies like this. The film opens with irrepressible Travis (Clint Hummel) fucking the daughter of snarling Mexican generalissimo Morales (Danny Trejo, who survives this one), thus inaugurating a boring gunfight between the Mexican army and Travis and his partner, Jake (Martin). Jake wants to know what's taken Travis so long. Travis wants Jake to know that it's not "screwing," it's "making love." It's that kind of movie. They're chased across the Texas border so that Michael Paré can make a cameo, and then on to the titular town of "Big Kill," where cityfolk greenhorn Jim (Christoph Sanders) wants to make a new life now that his wife was lost to him in childbirth. When Jim shares that with his buttermilk-scrubbed girlfriend, it sounds an awful lot like his wife was a fetus, but, you know, there you have it.
O Clube dos Canibais ***/**** starring Ana Luiza Rios, Tavinho Teixeira, Zé Maria, Pedro Domingues written and directed by Guto Parente
by Walter Chaw Guto Parente's The Cannibal Club is satire served grisly, sexy, slick, and unsubtle, an update in theme if not form of Paul Bartel's still-unsurpassed Eating Raoul--a fable of the class struggle eternal as the 1% literally feeds, as it is wont to do, on the other 99. The more things change, and all that; it's instructive to revisit Eating Raoul's opening narration about Hollywood, which seems to apply equally to every group of monkeys in pants: "Here sex hunger is reflected in every aspect of daily life...where random vice and amorality permeate every strata of society, and the barrier between food and sex has totally dissolved." For Parente, Bartel's murderous--and eventually cannibalistic--marrieds the Blands are Gilda and Otavio (Ana Luiza Rios and Tavinho Teixeira), a rich couple living on a sprawling estate in Fortaleza, Brazil, who go through an alarming number of low-income workers together. The young men are provided by an employment agency, seduced by the lady of the house, and at the moment of climax, murdered by Otavio (who's been jerking off in the wings), butchered, then eaten. Otavio is also a member of the titular club, where the hoi polloi of Brazilian corporate culture gathers to watch a graphic sex show that ends in the murder of the chained couple, who are then, likewise, served up in the Brazilian fashion: on skewers, shaved at the table. There's a hint of Peter Greenaway in that.
***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.