After the limp 2017 film The Great Wall, the director Zhang Yimou was clearly looking to enact a return to form. With Shadow (2018), Zhang has done more than that: he’s created a martial-arts movie landmark, as strong in its performances as it is spectacularly novel in its violence. [Read more…]
Cinema Disordinaire is a uniquely selective entry of films -- listed in order of date upon release and reviews in immediate response -- that showcase the singular in all of cinema, the seminal, and the utterly sublime come to screen this past half century. In other words, there's not much here you won't thoroughly enjoy.
Everything horror writers and filmmakers have stolen from Hebrew mysticism gets stolen right back by the Israeli writer-director team of Yoav and Doron Paz in The Golem (2019). A well-crafted and idiosyncratic supernatural thriller, the film plays like a mix of Frankenstein, The Witch, and some of the Coen brothers’ more explicitly Jewish movies.
You might think yourself a savvy cinephile. Perhaps you’ve heard that Border (2018) won Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and is Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign-Language Film for the upcoming Academy Awards. So you hear the premise of a customs officer who forms an unexpected bond with a stranger she investigates, and assume you have a solid idea of the drama and romance that will unfurl. You’re wrong. Even if you know Border is adapted from a short story from Let The Right One In author and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist, you can’t possibly conceive of the wild, disturbing yet beautiful story that’s lies within. And better yet, its unnerving surprises are just part of what makes this movie absolutely marvelous. [Read more…]
There are several ways of remembering a nightmare. Interpreting a classic work always requires a true sense of daring. When literature has become canon or a film a cultural staple, updating a story for a new age will bring with it the baggage of decades. For our new era of ghouls and menacing shadows, director Luca Guadagnino has decided to conjure his own interpretation of Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria. This new version (2018), nearly 3 hours in length, is not worthy of the label “remake.” Guadagnino has taken Argento’s pulpy, color-strewn cult object and transformed it into a work of an almost occult power. It is a film set in the very decade of the original, but it seems to be channeling our own, present sense that dark forces at work in the world. To compare the two versions is to compare two eras and mindsets, two interpretations of the extreme and satanic. [Read more…]
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…]
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…]