There is a strange sense in modern cinema that to be avant-garde means to be vague, whereas pop entertainment wears its idealisms or opinions on its sleeve. A look at this year’s offerings offers a startling set of comparisons to make this point. Early in the year the surprise box office hit Get Out offered a vicious B-movie critique of race relations in contemporary America, while the arthouse darling It Comes at Night was a somewhat sluggish bore about people in the woods, trapped in some vague post-apocalyptic future without much of a point (or coherent plot). Even Ridley Scott’s latest rehash of the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, had more to say about the rise of Fascism in the modern world than anything else released in the season. [Read more…]
The Snowman had all the makings of a great horror crime-thriller in the vein of Silence of the Lambs. It too was based on a provocative mystery novel, Jo Nesbø’s acclaimed international bestseller. It was helmed by an esteemed director, Tomas Alfredson. The Swedish filmmaker chiseled a reputation for crafting compelling adaptations of tricky novels with his celebrated vampire tale Let the Right One In, and the Oscar-nominated espionage drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. With a cast that boasts such critically heralded stars as Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and J.K. Simmons, Alfredson seemed destined for a three-peat success with his latest. So perhaps the greatest mystery of The Snowman is not the identity of its merciless murderer, but just how all this promise came together in an incoherent and tone-deaf mess. [Read more…]
Tom of Finland might not be the movie you’re expecting it to be, but it’s the movie it needs to be. This quiet masterpiece of a biopic assumes that the viewer already knows how the story ends, with its eponymous protagonist becoming a living legend of progressive gay culture in the late 20th century, an artist whose critical and popular claim both celebrated and transcended its context. Tom’s art was boldly proud and beautiful in a specific way that demanded respect for his community, making sure as his partner says in the film, “that everyone knows we exist,” while at the same time, the work was also just so undeniably original and fresh and exuberant that no one could resist its charms. Based only on the art, one might anticipate more of a romp from this film — and there is romping; but its true power lies in its strange subtleties and in Tom himself, an unexpectedly unassuming army vet and urbane ad guy whose inherent sense of dignity and justice combines with his talent to make him exceptional. [Read more…]
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Friedrich Nietzsche.
It is hard to doubt that many inhabitants of the American imperium are going insane. The irrational nature of sudden, public outbursts of violence escalates to new levels of horror every year. The recent bloodbath in Las Vegas has raised many, quite necessary, debates over the gun-crazed culture that frames the American mindset, but little attention is being paid to the actual mental state of the republic. Surrounded by hyper-capitalism, predatory competition, and an increasingly isolated way of living, new monsters are being bred and formed, to roam the countryside and inflict new body counts. It is almost fitting that the current White House occupant is himself deranged, because shouldn’t a leader be a mirror image of his people? [Read more…]
There is a sense in our increasingly electronic era that everything is surface. We are defined by our social media pages and herd to the gym to look a specific way. What defines us is becoming an increasingly complex series of ponderings based on many material factors. It is only appropriate then, that Warner Brothers would decide to revive Blade Runner here and now. Denis Villeneuve’s new Blade Runner 2049 is a film that is indeed all surface, with the cold heart of an android, but this makes it a fitting fable for its audience.
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. [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…]
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
The shower scene in Psycho is easily one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. Even those who’ve never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s notorious 1960 thriller know its shrieking strings score, and have surely seen it mimicked in a bevy of film and TV shows. Beyond that blood-splashed shower curtain, there’s a whole world to be explored. Documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe dives in with 78/52 [Read more…]
The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos has raised eyebrows and sunk hearts with his heralded drama Dogtooth and his Colin Farrell-fronted dark comedy The Lobster. Now he reteams with Farrell for The Killing of A Sacred Deer, an enigmatic bit of slow burn horror that boasts a streak of pitch-black humor. Not nearly as accessible or silly as The Lobster, it’s nonetheless breathlessly daring and unnerving. [Read more…]
Soon after the start of “Paris, Texas,” Harry Dean Stanton appears in an astonishing gorge called the Devil’s Graveyard. He’s playing a lost soul, Travis, who will spend the rest of the film getting found. Right now, though, surrounded by rock formations that evoke the westerns of John Ford, Travis is an enigma. On foot and wholly alone save for a watchful eagle, wearing a red cap and an inexplicable double-breasted suit, Travis looks like a former cowboy or maybe a businessman who took a wrong turn. He looks like someone Dorothea Lange might have photographed during the Great Depression. He looks like the American West, all sinew, dust and resolve. [Read more…]
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is his Mona Lisa. Maybe a masterpiece, but most definitely crafted to capture the public with its mystery. Following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, the art-horror offering has ignited furious debate over its meaning, and even basic plot points. Sure, the trailer suggests this is a creepy cult thriller about a married couple whose happy home is unsettled by some unexpected–and sexy–guests. But the truth is something more complicated and far trickier to define. [Read more…]
Vacation-starved New Yorkers could nonetheless repair to David Zwirner gallery this summer, on West 19th St. and view James Welling’s short film Seascape (2017). The film provides an ingratiating encounter with the storied, rock-festooned Maine coast, accompanied by an audio of accordion and taped ocean sound. There is no narration, just image, sound and elegiac music, as ocean waves endlessly and variously crash upon the rocks, the sun becomes clouded then bright again, and water and sky ever change hue. America “grew up” with landscape painting of the Romantic era, beginning effectively with Thomas Cole, and, continuing in the dramatic seascape narratives of the Maine coast by Winslow Homer. Welling’s film adds yet another iteration of aesthetic and method to this tradition [Read more…]
In Alan Moore’s superb and baroque graphic novel From Hell, Jack the Ripper is quoted as saying, “One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the 20th century.” If such bloody and fevered characters can be set to frame a century, then Heath Ledger’s incarnation of The Joker in The Dark Knight is the cinematic icon that frames the 21st century thus far. Christopher Nolan returned to theaters over the summer with yet another big, loud opus, the World War II epic Dunkirk. Yet his most successful film has not only aged well but has gained a potent and disturbing relevance. [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, 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 C von 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.
Less dream (or dreamy) than earlier movements into surrealist expression, the first quarter of Episode 3, for instance, shows Lynch, in an extraordinary way, to be as clear-eyed and sure-footed as he’s ever been in these ghostly yet thoroughly gripping realms. It’s as if, rather than imagining, some doppelgänger of himself now inhabits these realms, sending in return faint coordinates and word; or Lynch, figuratively, has set foot in them himself, excursioned through them in a near-corporeal way, and now with intimate familiarity he is able to speak cinematically to their airy constructions, and he does this with such nuance that they feel like alternate extents of consciousness and being: expansive, elusive, wholly mercurial states of mind-borne self.
Thanks to such dazzling and deeply dark films as Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Mother, and I Saw The Devil, South Korean thrillers make cinephiles worldwide drool in anticipation of stories as twisted and electrifying as they are gut-wrenching. It’s an intimidatingly high bar, but writer/director Jung Byung-gil deftly clears it with The Villainess, a revenge thriller that chases a fascinating female assassin through fragile love and shattering heartbreaks. [Read more…]
Imagine a world where a seemingly all-powerful political party has seized control of America, upending our democratic system of checks and balances. A malevolent dictator slowly strips the rights away from underserved and marginalized groups, particularly women and people of color, under the guise of providing “stability” for the nation as a whole. And radical protest groups led primarily by Black women march through the streets, broadcast over the radio waves, and find themselves harassed, wrongfully detained, and even murdered by police. [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…]
There was a time when the term ‘summer blockbuster’ meant an original, thrilling ride. But as Transformers: Who Gives a Shit and Spider-Man: Yes, Another Reboot attest, nowadays those words tend not to be worth the promotional material they’re printed on. Which is why it is nothing short of a small wonder to have received a glimmer of hope this year in the form of British director Edgar Wright’s homage to heist films, Baby Driver. [Read more…]