The mythological still channels our innermost desires. Myths crystalize what we wish to be, or how we would like to divide the world in terms of good and evil, with a simplicity that is crystalline. This same mythic power fuels Mandy, a wild and haunting cinematic creation. A hallucinatory film with the logic of a nightmare, it manages to combine camp, horror and moments of profound drama in a bizarre yet beautiful canvas. Director Panos Cosmatos announces himself here as an original talent on par with other recent masters of trippy cinema like Nicolas Winding Refn or Guy Maddin. Yet while Cosmatos may bask in the kind of outrageous, visceral creativity more common in post-modern experimentation, his film is a myth forged out of deep fires. It is not an exaggeration to call it Homeric, for it is a journey that feels classic even as it takes place in a modern world. Completing this film’s strange power is Nicolas Cage, who delivers a performance of astounding fury, as if he were a fanatic engaged in holy war. There is a lot of blood in Mandy (2018), as well as chainsaws, burning buildings, drugs and even animation, but it’s never shallow or stale. [Read more…]
Riot Cinema, or Cinema Disordinaire, is a uniquely selective entry of films and reviews that showcase the singular, the seminal, and the utterly sublime in all of cinema this past half century.
You’ve never seen anything quite like Sorry to Bother You (2018). The provocative feature debut of rapper-turned-writer/director Boots Riley tackles race and capitalism with a ferocious and fantastical sense of humor that will have audiences alternately gasping and scream-laughing.
Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, a young black man struggling to make his way at a shady telemarketing firm in Oakland. To show his discomfort in this gig, Riley throws his hero full-bodied into this interruptive workflow. When Cassius places a call, he and his desk are literally dropped into strangers’ homes, crashing into their family dinners, tearful moments of solitude, or frenzied sexual trysts. His girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), has no qualms about her survival job; she spins signs by day so she can make political performance art by night. But Cassius grows frustrated making little money in a job he feels gives him no purpose. That is until a long-timer (Danny Glover) offers a crucial tip for success: “Use your white voice.” [Read more…]
One cannot simply write a review of Blake Williams’s immersive, hypnotic experimental film Prototype (2017). It is more appropriate to comment on this film as the description of an experience. Whether taken in as a 3D experience or as a standard, 2D film, Protoype attempts to create an environment with the very idea of cinema itself. Cinema in its most primal form is a collection of images, rushing one after the other, weaving a tapestry. Williams’s work has a kinship with the early avant-garde cinema which experimented with the marriage of image and narrative, producing works which today have a dreamlike intensity. This intensity comes from the passage of time, because now these films can feel like a transmission from some other age or world. Herman G. Weinberg’s 1931 “film poem,” Autumn Fire, is such a film, with its silent black white imagery of nature, a wandering man in silhouette, a daydreaming woman and breezy waters. As modern pop culture came to be in the 1960s, artists like Andy Warhol would push the very boundaries of what cinema as an art form even meant. His 7-hour Empire is simply one still shot of the Empire State Building. [Read more…]
There can be nothing more dangerous than an awakened consciousness. Paul Schrader’s new and fierce work, First Reformed (2017), is a portrait of a man connecting with a world in crisis, even as he is silently torn by his own scars. Beautifully composed, it is a film that reaches well beyond the surface of its story. It is about the very condition and mood of our times, and the palpable sense of some oncoming cataclysm.
We are but individuals operating within the larger panorama of societies and nations. Some of us are bond strong by belief systems; others despair within their beliefs at a world symbolically ready to burn. Paul Schrader has been a filmmaker of the latter ilk since his early days when he composed furious, violent works which, even when featuring traditional plots, displayed an artist grappling with the spirit and the flesh. [Read more…]
Cinema has the capacity to become a conduit for dreams and nightmares, combining both into something the ancients could have scarcely imagined- the physical manifestation of myth. If critics such as Roland Barthes and Octavio Paz are correct, then the ritual of cinema or television has replaced the pagan rituals of old. Yet the primitive force of myth remains embedded in human expression, no matter if the medium has changed. Estonian filmmaker Rainer Sarnet’s new film, November (2017), is pure myth, a fairy tale lifted from the page and given life by moving images, the reverie of cinematography and the atmosphere of music. It is imagined and produced with a vivid sense of time and place, yet creating an environment outside of time. And like all myths, its grand and magical flourishes are decorations for a story that is simple in its evocation of human feelings, desires and experiences. [Read more…]
Cinema can become a tool for the exorcising of demons. Repressions and life experiences can suddenly be evoked and shared with everyone in the theater or watching at home. Joachim Trie’s dark and perceptive film, Thelma (2017), is a gothic parable which serves as an interesting examination of the consequences of repression. A young girl becomes the receptor of her parents’ rigid, one could say Puritan, religious views of the world. Released in only a few arthouse venues and now available for streaming via Amazon, Thelma touches upon issues rarely gazed upon by mainstream/fantasy cinema. In an increasingly secular- albeit not rational- world, organized religion is being relegated more to a habit of the past. It even seems the Pope now claims hell does not exist. But for those raised within islands of dogma, belief is a very powerful and palpable part of life. [Read more…]
Writer/director Sean Baker does not make flashy films, but slowly unfolding, naturalistic narratives that’s revelations bloom for hours and days after you’ve first seen them. In 2015, he had critics raving over Tangerine, his heartwarming and at times hilarious breakout about a pair of trans sex workers. For his follow-up, Baker awes with his frank yet beautiful portrait of poverty-stricken Americans living in the shadow of The Happiest Place On Earth.
Set down the highway from Orlando’s Disney World, The Florida Project (2017) focuses on the people scraping by at a rundown motel called The Magic Castle. [Read more…]
Becoming a woman can be a traumatizing experience. Your body transforms. It bleeds. Your hormones swing wildly, subjecting you to fits of rage, sadness, lust, and self-doubt. You may look in the mirror and see someone you don’t recognize. You might rebel against this lack of control by acting out with booze, sex, and drugs. In these regards, the 15-year-old heroine of Blue My Mind (2017) is pretty common. But where this Fantastic Fest entry takes a dramatic and sensationally strange turn is that she is not becoming a woman. She’s becoming a mermaid. Far from a fantastical and glamorous experience, it’s one swimming in trauma and body horror. [Read more…]
Conceived in the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, four days after Donald Trump assumed power, the comedian Jordan Peele’s semi-parodic horror film Get Out (2017) has a complexity worthy of its historical moment.
Get Out opens with a familiar horror-movie trope. Someone walking alone down a dark street stalked by a mysterious force. That the setting is an idyllic suburb, the someone is a young, increasingly panicked black man, and the predator is driving a white car gives the scenario an unmistakable reality. “The scene grows discordantly disturbing because you may, as I did, flash on Trayvon Martin,” wrote Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. That the black youth is not shot but rather abducted is a dreamlike condensation of the movie to come. [Read more…]
by Alci Rengifo
Madness grips the airwaves like a deafening transmission, and the overlords of the earth seem to speak in terrifyingly grim visions. Thank the gods that every age produces its own soothsayers. It is fitting, then, that just as a surreal state of affairs takes hold, David Lynch returned to us with Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), a continuation of his landmark cult 1990s series that combined melodrama with the director’s brand of surrealist imaginings. But not only did Lynch return, he also shows himself to be fully in tune with these new dark ages. Episode 8 of the revival in particular goes beyond television or even cinema — it is one mad flow about our civilization’s communion with dark forces to unleash absolute destruction. [Read more…]
by Christopher Hassett
The new Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) finds David Lynch working in fresh and sublimely haunting domains, ones that pleasurably flirt or unnervingly skirt the spectral drop-offs of some charged and sinister abyss. This seems no visional or evolutional change of tack, nor does it appear, at least in these early episodes, Lynch is newly surveying unmapped terrains. Rather, there is something more elevated in this late-career landscape, and something far more intimate as well. One senses, when viewing this new series, particularly his excursions into Lynchian Other-Realms, that his articulation of these doppelgänging worlds feel more experiential than conceptual, more occupied than conceptualized. [Read more…]
The Bad Batch (2016) is a stark and stunning new film by Ana Lily Amirpour. And timely too, considering every effort by our current regime to cast those of seeming naught into the desperate oblivions of a world only slightly less unhinged than the one depicted in this film. With a nod to the current depravity of our day, the film opens (forgive my indulgence) in the wet dream of said regime whose spooging head is our ever-ranting, ever-pissy Child-in-Chief — let’s call him Boy — he who nightly wets his bed and in the dreamy slosh fingers blindly for his own plundered asshole. Were the Boy blessedly in this film, he’d be swiftly on a sizzling spit: fatted swine for its flesh-hungry natives. [Read more…]
While most of the republic’s cinema-goers flock to local theaters to indulge in the new incarnation of Stephen King’s It, your local RedBox is harboring a deliciously wicked and original work of cinematic viscera, Julia Ducournau’s Raw (2016). This cannibal parable created quite the stir at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where audience members were reported to have fainted due to the movie’s bloody moments. As with most movies of this type, the gore doesn’t do justice to the hype. The film’s power resides in what it has to say as opposed to what it wants to show. Like all good satire, it knows that showing too much ruins the effect. Like American Psycho, Raw gets under your skin by casting a mirror. Ducournau is essentially putting on display a civilization eating itself, like Goya’s painting “Saturno devorando a su hijo (Saturn Devouring His Son).” Raw is art as splatter, capturing in its own special way those moments when youth, sexual awakening and finding one’s place in the social labyrinth all crash together. [Read more…]
Nicolas Pesce’s new American gothic, The Eyes Of My Mother (2016), is a spare, simmering vision of riptiding loneliness and grim pathology, and it is both beautiful and unconventionally good. Pesce gives us a protagonist we cannot know, nor scarcely bear, and delivers a film we can no less turn our eyes from, though considering the subject at hand this may be blindingly ill-advised. [Read more…]
As folkloric Polish musical sex-comedy horror movies go, The Lure (2015) is pretty interesting. The first feature directed by Agnieszka Smoczynska, the film follows two mermaid sisters onto land, where they look for love, feast on human flesh and find work singing and stripping at a nightclub that might have come from an early David Lynch movie or a vintage-’80s music video [Read more…]
There is a moment, in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), when Max (Tom Hardy) washes blood off his face. This is unsurprising, since he has just engaged in one of many fights, but two points are worthy of note. First, the blood is not his. Second, he washes it off not with water but with mother’s milk, siphoned from a gas tanker. And there, in one image, you have George Miller’s film—wild and unrelenting, but also possessed of the outlandish poetry, laced with hints of humor, that rises to the surface when the world is all churned up. [Read more…]
In Bone Tomahawk (2015), an old-timer, an invalid and a gunslinger set out across the blistering desert to rescue three innocents from a band of savage cannibals. Their mission seems beyond futile, but don’t count them out too soon: Their leader is Kurt Russell.
Yet Mr. Russell is far from the only reason to see this unexpected low-budget treat, a witty fusion of western, horror and comedy that gallops to its own beat. That rhythm is dictated entirely by the writer and director, S. Craig Zahler, a novelist and musician who flips genre conventions upside-down and cares more about character than body count. As a result, he has given us a horror movie whose monsters are withheld until the tail end of its 132 minutes, and an action movie whose longest section involves mostly walking and talking. [Read more…]
One of the great pleasures of international horror films is uncovering what is considered scary in other countries. Even a quick glance at some of the most memorable titles of recent years highlights how diverse these offerings can be: Sweden’s sublime vampire tale Let The Right One In; South Korea’s psychological chiller A Tale of Two Sisters; France’s visceral Martyrs; and Serbia’s controversial A Serbian Film. But if we dig a little deeper, we find the same threads woven into the entire horror landscape. We fear the unknown, the dark, the grotesque, but most of all we fear pain and death. Our fears are primal and universal; horror regularly serves as the great unifier in a way most genres can’t match.
It should come as no surprise then, that much of what we see in Baskin (2015), the first feature length offering from Turkish director Can Evrenol, feels familiar. [Read more…]
A father and his son, a boy of twelve or so, go into a wood. They are out hunting, armed with a gun. As they walk, they engage in one of those ordinary, man-to-man chats that arise on a country stroll. “Canst thou tell me what thy corrupt nature is?” the father asks. “My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, only unto sin, and that continually,” the lad replies. Clearly, he has learned the words by rote, yet they don’t sound tired or hollow in his mouth; he means them. His next task is to help with the traps that have been laid in the undergrowth. We watch his small hands slowly easing wide the iron jaws. These scenes are from The Witch (2015), a film written and directed by Robert Eggers.
“The horror! The horror!” The terminal valediction of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is deconstructed with a raging eloquence in the Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s majestic, spellbinding film, Embrace of the Serpent (2105). Is the unspeakable savagery evoked by his dying words really beyond the reach of the civilized imagination? I doubt it. [Read more…]