In a galaxy far, far away, a young man in a sea of sand faces a foreboding destiny. The threat of war hangs in the air. At the brink of a crisis, he navigates a feudalistic world with an evil emperor, noble houses and subjugated peoples, a tale right out of mythology and right at home in George Lucas’s brainpan. But this is Dune (2021), baby, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction opus, which is making another run at global box-office domination even as it heads toward controversy about what it and its messianic protagonist signify. [Read more…]
Cinema Disordinaire is a unique of selection of strange and wonderful films -- along with their original reviews -- which showcase the singular in all of cinema, the seminal, and the utterly sublime come to screen this past half century. For fans of off-kilter and/or confounding films, there's not much here you won't thoroughly enjoy.
Reviewed by A.O. Scott
Alexia is a strip-club dancer in the South of France whose hobby — her compulsion, her kink, her vocation — is murder. As the bodies pile up and the law seems to be closing in, she leaves the house where she lives with her parents and takes on the identity of Adrien Legrand, a boy who went missing many years before.
Having seen a computer-generated image of the teenager Adrien might have grown up to be, Alexia fashions herself into a plausible likeness, cutting her hair short, binding her breasts and smashing her nose against a bathroom sink. The disguise works well enough to convince the boy’s dad, Vincent, the ultra-manly commander of a fire-and-rescue squad. But there is a complication: Alexia is pregnant. The father, as far as we can tell, is a Cadillac with hydraulic suspension and a custom paint job. As the pregnancy progresses, Alexia starts to lactate petroleum. [Read more…]
Reviewed by Jeannette Catsoulis
The Innocents (2021) may share a title — and even some thematic fragments — with Jack Clayton’s 1961 ghost story, but its vibe is ultimately more superheroic than spectral. There’s no hint of either characteristic, though, in the movie’s gorgeous opening shot of an angelically sleeping child, the brush of eyelashes on freckled skin glowing in summer sunlight. The child is 9-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum), and when she wakes and carefully pinches the thigh of her autistic, nonverbal sister, Anna (played by the neurotypical actor Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), we know Ida is no angel. [Read more…]
Reviewed by Jeannette Catsoulis
Shielded by a rat’s-nest beard and layers of decaying clothing, Rob (Nicolas Cage) lives in a rudimentary cabin in the Oregon wilderness with his beloved pig. Together, they forage for truffles that Rob barters for necessities when Amir (an indispensable Alex Wolff) makes his weekly visit. The truffles are bound for high-end Portland restaurants; when the pig is stolen, her owner will be compelled to follow the fungi.
Pig (2021), Michael Sarnoski’s stunningly controlled first feature, is a mournful fable of loss and withdrawal, art and ambition. Told in three chapters and a string of beautifully delineated scenes, the movie flirts with several genres — revenge drama, culinary satire — while committing to none. Instead, Sarnoski takes us on an enigmatic journey as Rob searches for his pet and revisits a life he long-ago abandoned. [Read more…]
Reviewed By Ben Kenigsberg
On Come True (2020), the Canadian filmmaker Anthony Scott Burns is billed as the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and lead member of the visual-effects team. Under the pseudonym Pilotpriest, he also shares credit for the synth-driven, ’80s-style score. He acquits himself well on all counts except maybe scripting (he wrote the story with Daniel Weissenberger). Like Our House (2018), Burns’s underseen feature debut, Come True is superior throwback horror marred mainly by familiarity and, in this case, an ending that feels like a tease. [Read more…]
Reviewed by Glenn Kenny
Possessor (2020), about an assassin who works by taking over the mind and body of someone who can get close to the victim without suspicion, could have sprung from the imagination of David Cronenberg and, like his early films, Possessor is equal parts cerebral and visceral. But this film is the work of the writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, his son. It depicts horrific murders in appalling detail as it relentlessly interrogates the experience of inhabiting a foreign body. [Read more…]
Reviewed by John DeFore
Promotional materials bill Tyler Taormina’s Ham on Rye (2019) as a “coming-of-age comedy,” comparing it to Dazed and Confused and John Hughes films. That’s as misleading as calling Eraserhead a reluctant-groom rom-com. But what other shorthand would you use for this strange, atmospheric work, which is 100 percent not a comedy but does share a spiritual connection — refracted through art-film aesthetics and anomie — with the aforementioned landmarks? Quiet and carefully made but cryptic, it relies on the viewer to complete its metaphors. To most patient eyes, it will look like a gentle ode to those who seemed part of the crowd in high school, then simply didn’t transform into the kind of adults their peers chose to be. [Read more…]
Reviewed by Dennis Harvey
Some of the more obscure guilty-pleasure subgenres familiar to fans of international psychotronic cinema get thrown in a blender to create Miguel Llanso’s second feature. The resulting concoction is a witch’s brew of cheap 1960s European 007 knockoffs, ’70s Filipino exploitation cinema, vintage kung fu pics, retro TV sci-fi cheese and lucha libre-type masked machismo, as well as myriad other elements, filtered through a narrative framework of Cold War anxiety and Afrofuturist techno-fantasy.
Billed as “a WTF thriller,” it will duly produce that flummoxed exclamation from unprepared viewers. But those with a simpatico arcane pop-cultural taste for giddy absurdism will find Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019) as delightfully nonsensical as its inspired title. [Read more…]
It’s easy enough to slap the #MeToo label on Nina Wu (2019) and call it a day. Yes, its titular heroine (a remarkable Wu Ke-Xi, also a co-writer) is an actress brutalized and exploited by a misogynist film industry, and the Taiwanese director, Midi Z, never pulls his punches. Yet this startlingly evocative, complex and confrontational new film is not interested in justice or didacticism. [Read more…]
The town in the shocker Bacurau (2019) is fictional, a bit magical, at once ordinary and otherworldly. It’s filled with faces that have life etched in them, which helps deepen the realism. And while the story is set in the near future, it looks like the present: the charming landscapes, laughing children, crowing roosters, the grinning balladeer with a guitar. Then, the guns come out, history rushes in and a ghost pops by. (It smiles.) [Read more…]
In 2015, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz dropped jaws and blew minds with their harrowing–and at points hilarious–debut narrative feature, Goodnight Mommy. Last year, they offered a fresh taste in terror with a vignette in the folklore-inspired horror anthology, The Field Guide To Evil. Now, this heralded Austrian pair of co-writers/co-directors is back with their much-anticipated English-language debut, The Lodge (2019). And while this psychological thriller has plenty in common with their first film, the vibe is decidedly different. [Read more…]
South Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho has been thrilling critics and genre fans since 2006, when he unleashed his rambunctious yet heartbreaking creature-feature The Host. He’s awed us again and again with marvelous movies like the mind-bending murder-mystery Mother, the star-stuffed dystopian drama Snowpiercer, and the whimsical yet brutal fantasy-adventure Okja. By now, when you walk into a Joon-ho movie, you should expect something wildly riveting and wickedly clever. And that’s about all you can predict, because Joon-ho’s stories take audiences down paths twisted and devastating, often just when you think everything might just work out. In this vein, his pitch-black comedy Parasite (2019) might his masterpiece. [Read more…]
In 2016, production designer turned writer/director Robert Eggers awed critics with his directorial debut, The Witch, a daring horror film set in the 1630s. Now, for his ferociously anticipated follow-up, he and his brother/co-writer Max Eggers have journeyed 200-some years to a rocky and remote island off the New England coast to tell a tale of isolation, envy, intimacy, wrath, and regret with The Lighthouse (2019). [Read more…]
There’s something in the air on a crisp night in 1950s Cayuga, New Mexico. Sure, there’s excitement as basketball season begins with a game so anticipated that nearly the entirety of this rural town has convened upon the high school’s gymnasium. But then there’s something stranger, a crackle on the phone lines, a light in the skies. In The Vast of Night (2019), this mystery will be cracked wide open by an unlikely pair of amateur detectives. The result is an ode to The Twilight Zone series that is fittingly riveting, exhilaratingly daring, and a whiz-bang technical marvel. [Read more…]
Folding sexual arousal and religious ecstasy into a single, gasping sensation, Saint Maud (2019), the feature debut of the director Rose Glass, burrows into the mind of a lonely young woman and finds psycho-horror gold.
Maud (a mesmerizing Morfydd Clark) is a live-in palliative care nurse in an unnamed British seaside town. A recent religious convert — we don’t know why, but the film’s unnervingly gory opening more than hints at a profound trauma — Maud believes that God has chosen her to guide the fallen to salvation. This mission leads her to the forbidding hilltop mansion of Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a celebrated dancer and choreographer now stricken by late-stage lymphoma. [Read more…]
It’s rare that a press screening comes with a warning. But in the wake of reported walkouts, invites to see Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale (2019) came with a warning. In red font, critics were alerted that the film would contain “sexual violence towards women, violence towards children, and violence motivated by racism.” Since the film’s Venice premiere last fall, some have criticized Kent for the brutality found in her much-anticipated follow-up to her breakthrough debut The Babadook. However, considering her sophomore effort is a revenge-thriller that explores the sins of colonialism, the brutality is essential to its message. To capture the merciless of this domineering mindset, Kent won’t look away from its violence and depravity. And she won’t let us look away either. [Read more…]
“I wrote this while going through a break-up,” Ari Aster said at the special advance screening of Midsommar (2019). “I’m better now.”
The filmmaker’s darkly humorous confession played well to the crowd at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where press and select members of the public gathered to see Aster’s hotly anticipated follow-up to his wildly praised debut, Hereditary. As the crowd chuckled at Aster’s softly spoken introduction, a mix of excitement and anxiety hung in the air. With his first film, Aster had offered a scorching exploration of family trauma with a unique brand of horror grounded by an impeccable performance from a riveting leading lady. Basically, Hereditary was so outstanding, how could Midsommar possibly compete? [Read more…]
In modern movie terminology, “epic” usually just means long, crowded and grandiose. Birds of Passage (2019), Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s follow-up to their astonishing, hallucinatory, Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent, earns the label in a more honest and rigorous manner. Parts of the story are narrated by a blind singer — a literally Homeric figure — and the story itself upholds Ezra Pound’s definition of the epic as “a poem containing history.” It’s about how the world changes, about how individual actions and the forces of fate work in concert to bring glory and ruin to a hero and his family. [Read more…]
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.
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…]