Erich Kuersten's unhinged film criticism. Constantly in flux, tuned in, a day late and a dollars short ('where it counts')

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 Great Movies for a New Years Day Hangover


Damn but you made a mess of things last night --I mean you must've since you don't remember and your girlfriend's on the couch instead of in bed with you and you're fully dressed, under the covers, waking up now in late afternoon, bleary and a mess, to reach with shaking hand for that warm foam-crusted highball on your nightstand, swilling it down before the gag reflexes can kick in, before you can get sick from the pain of hangover. You choke it down, which gives you strength to pop up and make a gin and juice 50/50 juice glass full. Bliss. And then... floating through another blackout day.

Then... waking up again, a messier mess of things, blearier, shakier hand, for that warm... wait where the fuck is it?


When did I start to lose you in that last paragraph? The crusty highball reach? Well, we can't all be 'blessed' with alcoholic genes. For the rest, a hangover on New Years Day is as close as you're gonna get. Let's say you wake up at least, and it's January first, and it's getting dark all ready or so it feels, and it's cold, and you don't have to work tomorrow, so there you are. It's time to watch TV and recuperate. That's where I can help.


There are no-nos for hangover or detox recovery movies to be avoided, and other things to be sought:

NO: gross-outs: eating, bodily humors, bathroom incidents (you'll literally gag)
NO: bugs, jungles, tropics (i.e. no sweltering heat - you'll sweat in sympathy)
NO: Cruelty and ugliness (all your sense are amplified)
NO: Loud sudden shocks, screaming, banging on pots, or playing harmonica
NO: Shouting, yelling, blue collar misery
NO: factories
NO: TV commercials (so watch TCM or DVDs)
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YES: Sexual heat, with good rhythmic second chakra breathing (realigns the dilated nerves towards pleasure rather than pain)
YES: cold climates, snow, ice
YES: Youthful love and tragic romance (you're very emotional)
YES: people talking in low, conversational voices
YES: the sweet freedom of cheerfully facing immanent death for a noble cause (allays your guilt re: trashing today through yesterday's revelry).

SO.....

1. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) Dir. Peter Hunt

The main thing here that's good for the alcohol-poisoned penitent is the length of the film and the cold atmosphere: the frozen, snowy on-location Alps raced around in by hard-to-shake bad guys in pursuit of our boy Bond--Lazenby, who's just dull but not obnoxious, so it's quite all right. The trip to Blofeldt's mountaintop lair is itself an amazingly cohesive journey, from car to helicopter to cable car, up, up, up. And then some girls girls girls who aren't afraid to write their room numbers in lipstick on Bond's naked thigh, and the amazing Telly Savalas laying out his big plan, cigarette in hand, or saying "you love chickens...." with that great nasal smoker delight in his voice, through a light-sound hypnosis machine. And then down down down, via cable car, skis, one ski, ice skates, car, and on and on, chased by actual professionals who can't easily be brushed off, for a change. By then your pulse will be slowing and the relative leisurely composition of the first half of the film will ease you into the hair-raising second half. Bond is always comfort when detoxing, but nowhere near as comforting for the alcoholic in recovery than when sheathed in snow and supported by Mrs. Peele herself, Diana Rigg. She's so forgiving of his momentary fear, and his gratitude for her managing to be in the right place at the right time is so touching, and her fearless ability drive aggressively when he's just too worn out, is so palpable it's like she's our own AA sponsor.

TITANIC (1997)
Dir. James Cameron

See above for importance of cold and length. You need long cold movies, because being without a movie to watch, or pick next or figure out something else to do after an hour and a half is terrifying. Loneliness or the terror of being dragged out to another overpriced club are always beckoning. Also, your heart is like those icebergs, melting now with remorse, and other things. I saw this in the theater the day after New Years Day, which I spent getting royally sick as my girl tried to get me to stop booze cold turkey. She wouldn't even give me no weed! It would have helped with the nausea. That bitch. But the next day we went to see TITANIC and leaving the theater I could barely walk, my dilated nerves and heightened volatile emotions were so carried aloft in the grandeur and sweep and blue light ice farewell, I was a sobbing mess. My cold turkey girlfriend sneered at me for crying but that didn't bother me. The film's got everything a good hangover movie needs: ice, love, and in-the-moment live for today-no tomorrow philosophy. I could have done without the framing device. but hey, I guarantee that if you're in that dilated nerve ending brutal hangover state, the movie will work for you too, and now you can FF-right past Bill "I never let it in" Paxton, if you want, though you won't have the wherewithal to do so so just SUCK IT UP! 

 I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1944)
Dir. Jacques Tourneur / Prod. Val Lewton

You wouldn't think a movie set in the Caribbean would fit this list but this isn't the 'real' Caribbean. No one sweats on the isle of San Sebastian; it's a Caribbean of the mind, cool and dry as a thigh bone rattle, and full of windy mystery as experienced through the eyes of a smitten nurse (the always soothing Frances Drake). I love the spiderweb latticework shadows of potted ferns and porch struts and harp strings, and through it all blows a gentle insistent leaf-rustling wind which builds to a thrilling, satisfying chill in the midnight through-the-cane field walk, the wind calling them through skull sign posts and dry cane stalks and a skeletal Darby Jones guarding the way. When we were young, brother and I watched this and Cat People nearly every night on a back-to-back tape every late night for an entire summer, the fan roaring in front of the TV, amazed how well such apparently slight 'everything to the imagination' films like these could hold up under such heavy repeat viewing. I watched it again recently and was floored about how so little happens, and so quickly. I love the beautiful opening with the Canadian snow outside the window and a Frances Drake voiceover, through to the end with a local black wise man's voiceover on St. Sebastian, offering a prayer for the dead. Where did that guy come from? We don't see anyone with that voice, but it works - he's St. Sebastian himself, perhaps... either way it's as soothing and lovely as a 50/50 gin and grapefruit juice for breakfast.

NADJA (1994)

Directed by Michael Almereyda

This was made by someone with a clear love of the genre, as it's structured like a loose remake of the 1935 Universal horror classic, DRACULA'S DAUGHTER with shades of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, and BLOOD AND ROSES (i.e. CARMILLA). It's full of beautiful black and white film compositions, with occasional lapses into pixelated imagery culled from a then-the-rage Fisher Price Pixelvision movie camera. With a bad hangover you wont mind the blurriness of these stretches, which add a dreamy surrealist patina, and the rest of the film is de-gorgeous (a phrase we used back then, as Deee-Lite was pop queen of NYC night life).  I couldn't get more than 45 minutes into the over-baked unoriginal pomp of Jarmusch's overpraised ONLY LOVER'S LEFT ALIVE but this film really knows its classic horror movies and has some interesting things to say, with great Gothic shots that wondrously fuse the downtown grit of NYC and the lighthouse expressionism of the old world. Nadja (Elina Löwensohn) is weary of her jet set life and longs to love her latest victim, a girl with a great East Village apartment. The cast is gorgeous, and soothing to the eye. Unlike, say, so many Duplassy mumblecore types, these actors are both gorgeous yet intelligent, witty yet not snarky. And hangovers can be soothed by the beauty of Galaxy Craze as Lucy--a kind of Molly Ringwald divided by Deborah Kara Unger. There's also the beautiful Martin Donovan as Harker, a once-beautiful Peter Fonda as a hippie Van Helsing, and a surprisingly sexy Jared Harris as a punk rock ill brother Nadja harbors weird incestuous desire for, and Suzy Amis as his nurse whom Nadja wants out of the way. It's clear in every frame and spoken word that the Gothic expressionistic blood of Karl Freund, the philosophy of Nietzsche, and the downtown cool of Abel Ferrara cohere and flow through Almeyerda's venis. I even like his 1998 film THE ETERNAL (Aka TRANCES), a weird Irish bog mummy tale that plays out like a hybrid SHINING-SZAMANKA coupled to that old Bram Stoker chestnut "Jewel of the Seven Stars," filmed once by Hammer in the 60s as BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB. Like NADJA, also good for a hangover.

Galaxy Craze
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5. SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Dir. Harmony Korine

A homage to film noirs like GUN CRAZY or THE BIG SLEEP, molded halfway into a Lite Brite money chute that's intoxicatingly dangerous, its measured sexual breath energy is perfect for second chakra-alignment. I haven't had drugs on my person in years but suddenly I felt the cops coming in through the window, or through my skin, watching Korine's movie with my headphones on. The cold feeling in the blood it created made me realize, for the first time, I never knew that blood 'running cold' is a literal thing. It reminds me why I never liked cocaine -- I'll gladly sacrifice the sexual gyrating moment by moment heavy breathing tactile intensity to not feel the blood run cold pit of the stomach disappearing empathy response. But BREAKERS glows like the secret chamber in a TWIN PEAKS bordello. Once the Jesus freak girl goes home, this shit really gets good, turning into a badass bizarro world version of CHARLIE'S ANGELS with James Franco inhabiting the role of a southern fried gangsta rapper Charlie--singing Britney songs on his outdoor piano, fellating a gun and squabblin' with his childhood buddy, the reigning (black) king of St. Pete. Hear it with 'phones for maximum ASMR drugginess; it will contextualize and heal and soothe your hungover brain... and ease your woeful remorse.

6. THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957)

Dir. Douglas Sirk

Like Harper is a grim sequel to The Thin Man, which itself was a sequel to The Big Sleep (i.e. Nick and Nora are what happened after Marlowe married heiress Vivian Rutledge), so The Tarnished Angels can be imagined as a sequel to those 30s MGM barnstormers, with Robert Stack as the Clark Gable daredevil pilot, and Jack Carson as the Spencer Tracy dog fox gone-to-ground mechanic. Then there's Dorothy Malone in the Harlow role, so smoking hot and well-lit you join the crew of leering sleazebags that pay to watch her parachute down in a fluttering skirt. It's based on a Faulkner story and you will finally believe Rock Hudson can act as he plays a tipsy reporter smitten by Malone and in quiet awe of Stack's daring, but Stack needs flight "like an alcoholic needs his drink," and when his plane crashes out from under him he pimps out his wife to get a new one.

The flight races are spectacular, some truly amazing barnstormer flying going on. It's in black and white Cinemascope, a rarity in itself, but you eventually get sucked in, especially with a decent DVD transfer, which you can get via the TCM Archive and maybe nowhere else. Expensive, then, but worth it... Even if you come away from it all feeling a bit down on life as a whole, you're sure one thing: these three leads show so much power they all but crack the film apart. The best scene occurs with Stack and Malone crashing on Hudson's floor and couch. He comes home a bit drunk, Carson is asleep, and there she is, awake and whispering to him. Sirk's decadent black and white lighting shining through her white nightgown as she spreads herself along the couch, and it's so hot you almost pass the fuck out. Looks like we're... closed for the evening. I'd give Stack a plane too, and so would Rock, if we could have for ourselves even for a night the Malone in this film --and we hate ourselves for being so vile, and so does she. But that just makes her all the sexier. That and the whispering and the live-for-the-moment all make it an ideal hangover movie.

7. ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930)

Dir. Victor Heerman

Few consider ANIMAL CRACKERS to be the Marx Brothers best film (most go for either NIGHT AT THE OPERA or DUCK SOUP), but much as I love all their Paramount work and their first two movies at MGM, for my acid viewing, nothing beats 1930's ANIMAL CRACKERS. It's their most psychedelic and unforced. When Groucho does his STRANGE INTERLUDE impression and steps out of the action to directly address the camera in a dreamy poetic rhythm, trippers freak out thinking he's talking directly to them across time and space. It's also the second and last Marx effort based on an actual a priori stage play (so all jokes are time-tested), and it has a great George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart script. It takes its time and spreads out and was filmed out on Long Island and the Brothers radiate a zany ease only proximity to their hometown NYC can provide. Make sure to see it from the beginning, when it starts it looks like it's going to be the most boring musical ever made: Seems 'yawn' Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) is giving a party on her Long Island estate. Oh great, you think with inner sarcasm, this is gonna be super boring and can ease my pain by offering no suspense or guilt whatever; then... Captain Spaulding arrives --and we get a rare chance to see Groucho wow the crowds with some truly original leg dancing. All worries vanish into a haze of giddy laughs and bourgeois tolerance, even when they occasionally drown you in puns. And your dilated nerves will be glad to hear Harpo's absolving harp interlude and will gently trill at the bare Norma Shear shoulders of the younger ladies, and will be assured by the imperious gullibility of Margaret Dumont no permanent harm can happen here; and there's also future alcoholism survivor Lillian Roth, rolling her eyes like she's too good for it all--and we certainly agree she's too good for Hal Thompson as the earnest wooer whose rank imitation has the "the soul of the Bogard." Truly, that battered MacGuffin canvas heals the broken misery of life. 

8. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

It's regal, it's lovely, its gray flannel and blue train color schemes soothe the spirit, and of course Cary "No mother, they didn't give me a chaser" Grant forgives us all trespasses. He soothes a scene just by being in it. Wily agent Eva Marie Saint is soothing, too, never speaking above a purr. Even the bad guys (James Mason and Martin Landau as his fey henchman) never shout but rather use their words in silken eloquence. The only loud behavior comes from Bernard Herrmann's aggro score. It's a Bollinger mimosa of a movie, and long enough that it counts as three refills-- enough to uncoil your misery.

9. MACBETH (1948)

Dir. Orson Welles

I'm partial to this film from days of watching my streaky VHS dupe over and over during my last alcoholic relapse, drawing pangs of solace from Macbeth's inconsolable guilt, his sense of letting ambition and his wife's venomous viper words (she's the equivalent of the demoness in the bourbon bottle) draw him farther and farther into the morass. This is the movie for when you're trying not to think about the horrible mess you made of your night, and nervous system. And now thanks to Olive's Blu-ray you can see the dirt on the stage sky - the vast cavernous set--with jagged mountainsides fresh from Republic westerns, like a spirit world, neither indoors no out, neither onstage, no off, with the thick atmosphere seeming to breathe and thrive, even when the Scottish brogues are so thick you can barely understand a word... but who cares? You can savvy enough to be moved and to have your emotional state of remorse and guilt reflected in great Elizabethan poetry, the feeling of eternal night and fog and Welles' voice as absolving and dissolving in its mellifluent baritone as an Epsom salts bath.

10. THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942)

Dir. Frank Tuttle

With her soft dream-like voice like she's trying to not wake up your angry girlfriend, Veronica Lake is a great salve for any hangover. Her chemistry with the equally soft-voiced Ladd is palpable, and sublime enough to forgive the endless contrived coincidences the plot hinges on. There's a weird thick layer of quiet in this film, perfect for hangovers or guilty consciences. Topping it off, the great Laird Cregar as the most silken of villainous stooges, his whole elegantly large form trembling at the thought of the violence he must inflict on his captive, he brings it all into perspective; it's just another night after all... you'll live. No matter what you did last night, Veronica Lake forgives you. Have a peppermint. (See: Veronica Lake Effect).

Erich Sez: When in doubt pick quiet, dark movies w/ devouring hotties
Now if you decide, wisely, to drink more the morning after, i.e. the hair of the dog, to cure your hangover, may I suggest the films mentioned below? A highball glass filled halfway up with gin and topped off with grapefruit juice, no ice, will dissolve the pain and you'll feel the glorious flush of rapture that only the true benders know, and these films will let you know you made the right choice. Just remember to leave a half-full glass of the same concoction by your bedside, because the hangover is going to be substantially worse the next time you wake up, though chances are you won't have time to even make it to bed. You'll just wake up on the couch, the DVD menu on eternal repeat and hopefully that half-full drink will be there. Down it quick, hit play again, and now you'll really be on a bender.

W.C. Fields says go for it!
I stopped drinking before the advent of DVDs, so I woke up to a rewound videotape, but either way the effect is the same. Hit play before you have a chance to second guess your decision. Movies can be watched over and over and over when you're on a bender! I saw SPECIES (1995) a hundred times that way. It's got everything you need: a soothing blonde beauty -- Henstridge is so achingly hot (and unaugmented) she actually seems alien. There are explosions, an escape onto a train, and any sexually frustrated male in the throes of delirium tremens can appreciate her need to mate fast, before the blue devils hot on her trail come a-cockblockin'. These devils are a bunch of sweaty losers played by Oscar luminaries like Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley, led by Michael Madsen as a tough guy. He can barely keep a straight face as the tough guy but his late inning tryst with Marg Helgenberger is a stealth bolt of proof grace. Two confident mature people coming together with nothing but carnivorous respect? I'll drink to that. (See: Natasha Henstridge Vs. the Coordinated Cockblock Quintet).


But in the meantime, you're an outlaw now, so enjoy that giddy flush of freedom that comes with the pall of death hanging over it, the rare Marx Brothers-ish joy when you know the ship has sailed and you're not getting back to land until you jump in the ice cold water and try to swim to shore. And the longer you wait, the farther the boat sails out to sea, and the longer and colder the swim. So why not stay aboard for another day?

See also the good folks at Modern Drunkard, who originally published my Guide to the Bender article (later reprinted in Daedalus Press's Decadent Handbook), and who have lots of great film reviews. Of course anything by W.C. Fields is golden, particularly INTERNATIONAL HOUSE and NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK. There's also THE THIN MAN, APOCALYPSE NOW, and of course, I would imagine since again I got sober before it came out, but GHOSTS OF MARS. One look at this great, terrible, magnificent film - and I knew... I knew. Mars, in the company of Natasha Henstridge and her stash of 'clear.' A matriarchy and Joanna Cassidy from BRADE RUNNA? What better way to drink through the dawn?

 In the words of Desolation Williams, "Come on, you Martian motherfuckers!"


PS - In honor of hangovers and seeing double we've answered sporadic requests to change the white on black print we've used since the beginning of the site. The result is you can read longer without feeling dizzy, we hope. It's still being tinkered with and we welcome feedback. (--erichk9@aol.com)

PPS -  By 'we' I mean me, of course. But it sounds like there's a whole staff that way. See? Honesty, that's the resolution.... Happy New Years!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best of 2014 (Movies and TV)

Here's the future I read in the blood spatter from my Herculean hacks at the digital hydra of 2014 film-TV-video: even the most lovable pop culture icons--the ones with whom I spent some considerable time in childhood (listening to my parent's LPs of "I started out as a child" and "Why is there Air" over and over)--can turn out to be monsters, and the low pit of the stomach sense of childhood being whisked away by obsequious demons must be soul-crushing at a high enough decibel; and that a few wily filmmakers can shake the world just by depicting worldshakers getting comedically killed, and that the amok digital technology curve we're headed for involves software-direct-to-brain connections--the getting rid of screens and earbuds altogether by installing them through the third eye--and we should be very careful about that and maybe not even go there.

In short, the year in entertainment seems to have melted into a lump of digital coal these last few months, it has seen my America scrambling for contextualization, hoping to right our virtual axis before we cave in the core of the world culture simulacrum. We are the world, through Seth Rogen. Long may his dick jokes reign.

But as for the other thing, the slow pall of realizing that maybe David Icke and the hysteric Satanic panickers who sank my faith in humanity during the slasher 80s and the anti-porn crusaders were right all along, it's to Disney's dark, brooding, strange masterpiece MALEFICENT I turn. I has import and dark beauty priapic critics missed, perhaps because the film came out before the Cosby thing broke, so they weren't ready to realize how well the film mythically situates the perils of trusting the Prince Charming garments of our childhood friends not to hide slimy toad intent. Trouble is there's no good men left in the family unit to turn to--dad's been left alone to die in the Disney world bathroom and the inhumane experiments of industrial science on chimps shall haunt us for a Triassic age as traumatized apes deliver unprovoked violence (or just the threat of it) to change the world into the vile place we made them see it is; and the goodness in our hearts will have to triumph again and again just to stay afloat in the bullshit sea of godless despair, and the cowardice we exhibit today will kill us tomorrow, but constant courage is hard when the BLACK MIRROR shows more and more of our decomposing Dorian Gray visage.


from top:UNDER THE SKIN, THE BABBADOOK, BLACK MIRROR
MAYBE If we can fall in love with humankind and not worry about the approaching cliff--be like Scrooge Redux, combat strangling with soft cheek caresses, challenge bogeymen with tiger-sized ferocity tempered by love and forgiveness, and keep the bogey in the basement and give him a bowl of worms at lunchtime--then maybe 2015 will open the door to Humanity Mach 2.

BUT we're still growing in population, it's doubled since the last time we worried about it. We've become the kind of space parasite we routinely defend against in sci fi blockbusters, and Matt McConaughey's heading the swarm to the next host planet while SNOWPIERCER and NOAH realize that pulling the plug on humanity altogether may just be the most heroic thing we can do, our gift to the cosmos and the inbred animals from that ark. OBVIOUS CHILD even dared wage comedy in the face of abortion, without being crude, didactic or mean-spirited --a major first. And for the badass superstar East Village bitches in BROAD CITY, and in the post-digital terror in BLACK MIRROR, and the beyond-the-pale metatextuality of TOO MANY COOKS, and ERIC ANDRE show, it's business as usual for the apocalypse of televisual memory, nostalgia and spinoffs like ever-evolving tentacles through the horror film ether. We may be heading into a black post-modern melt-down abyss, but we're doing it together, goddamn it, so be true to your friends even if they're trees.

Now if we could only get rid of the bad people... but they're everywhere, they're inside our systems, and our basements, and our childhood nostalgia vats, fermenting. Killing them only makes you one of them, and they're part of you already. Only through tiger fierceness and unconditonal love enough to embrace even the foulest of our hidden inner lepers will we at least be able to... get our wings back and/or watch MANHATTAN again. But is there any fairy paradise un-parking lot paved left to fly to? Will there ever be a rainbow? Well fly there one day... either way... sweet Lucifer Ball. The flames are there for your protection. And please mind the receptacles on your way out.

1. MALEFICENT
Dir. Robert Stromberg

Critics said it was too dark, Jolie was stiff, and it was too much like WICKED, as if two feminist revision / witch character redemption tales in the same century would topple them from their papers' lofty mastheads. Maybe they're right. Toppling has already begun. And all the while, WICKED has been around, it's been contained up in mid-town: no film version, so what in Sam Hill are they waiting for? Meanwhile, if you dare to find it / look to the western skies and see MALEFICENT, a great Xmas present to the girl who's just turned too old for FROZEN, and needs a myth subverting the patriarchally-instilled importance of a handsome prince in the heroine's maturation. It's a complex work of psyche building that can also stand proudly next to Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber" on the shelf labeled "Feminist psychoanalytical myth re-balancing of the patriarchally-endorsed brutality towards womankind through the recapturing of her chthonic power" Yeah, I said it!


Scripted with great sensitivity and Jungian Girls who Run with the Wolves-ish archetypal revisionist awareness by Linda Woolverton, Jolie's not quite back at her GIRL INTERRUPTED levels of wild, but she's at least got the regal bearing, razor blade cheekbones, joyless laugh and a peerless sense of wry poise down pat. I know a girl or two just like her in AA and maybe they're cold for similar reasons. What's more important, maybe this film can heal her. For young girls and children have at last been given a mythic contextualization of that most odious crime, the date rape. One doesn't realize the extent of it as a problem of female maturity today (or any day presumably, just kept quieter before, to all our detriment) until we see it added into the mythic iconography of Disney.

And from there, the healing: Elle Fanning is a great snaggle-toothed princess, like a combination Drew Barrymore now and Dakota before, and Juno Temple is a welcome face as the younger of the three good fairy godmothers. In short, it's potent stuff, alchemically healing as a caustic salve that brought up from deep into the murky chthonic of a growing girl's true poltergeist power. With art direction that can stand proudly next to the Pre-Raphaelite work of Edward Burne-Jones, J.W. Waterhouse, Michael Parkes, Maxfield Parrish, and William Blake, Maleficent's fairy kingdom pulses and writhes. Trees grow and change at an accelerated rate; warriors of stone and tree root rise up from the ground on command; beings small and large fly and shimmer at night in ways Max Reinhardt would have been jealous of in his 1935 production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. And this time there's not a single Mickey Rooney to queer the deal.

2. THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS
(L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps)
Dir. Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani

Hélène Cattet et Bruno Forlani, cinema's first and only mixed gender / race / nationality writing-directing couple have been setting my head on fire ever since their 2009 feature debut AMER. I was so blown away by their unique mix of modernist experimental and post-modern 70s Italian horror narrative, especially as they're not alone in finding a creative wellspring in the updating and abstracting and melding of classic Argento, Morricone, and Antonioni (like Peter Strickland), dubbed from hereon out by the spirits deep in this blog, the Darionioni Nuovo. Argento may not have made a decent film since the mid 90s, but Forlani and Cattet have taken his blazing primary color and straight razor iconography and shattered it into a million psychosexual grim Freudian mind-meld slivers. Granted their looping-loopy style will no doubt prove alienating after about twenty minutes to people who don't know SUSPIRIA and INFERNO like the black of their gloves, and who don't swoon at gorgeous ironwork mazes of art nouveau architecture and Jungian psychosexual mythic color-coded resonance. But even those of us swooning over the ironwork maze of art nouveau architecture and Jungian psychosexual mythic color-coded resonance might need a break halfway through. 


Back from the break: wondering where can Bruno and Helene go next? This movie is their ground zero psychic crystal chronic-chthonic-fantasticular-infandibulum, i.e. death and all other deaths, past, future, parallel, you gotta let it in to your inner circle of Hell, and let it show how your lives flash before your eyes at the moment of death until that moment splinter-shatters into a shuddering standstill of time; the full glass goblin shatter of unlimited interconnection to those around you and the time and space in which you exist; every part in the movie of your life and the interior mind iconography of your own remembrance of those movies now merge and are torn to pretty colored tears. Walk away, you two, it's finished. Move on, by which I mean, it starts over. Is this style a coffin, now? You don't want to go back to Marienbad.

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(AKA Witching and Bitching)
Dir Alex de la Iglesia

Speaking of crazy witches, over in the modern Spain the gender war seems lost to the women, and it's about time.  If that sounds sexist than you've clearly never been married to or dated a Spanish-speaking mujer, como yo. If you have, then you'll roar with delight over this film, in which, far from the dubious victory run by Burton in TAMING OF THE SHREW or the bloody draw in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, we have something far more subversive and strange. Alex de la Iglesias directs with lots of rapid cut multi-camera editing like Romero uses in DAWN OF THE DEAD, so if you can handle subtitles or speak fluent Spanish, just hold on tight, and roll with it, at least until the gigantic strutting... thing... shows up. And forgive the film its stupid American title, WITCHING AND BITCHING. I've given it the far better name in my head, BITCHES' SABBATH. (my full lavish praise here).

4. SNOWPIERCER
Dir. Bong Joon-Ho

Joon Bong Ho's film is technically from 2013, but what are you going to do? It didn't really come into any kind of theatrical release here until recently - and is currently on Netflix streaming. But it's a great work of existential train class warfare druggy social critique. You can tell Ho's a fan of RUNAWAY TRAIN and every other damned train movie worth a damn. The film's a fucking work of genius. Who cares!! Fuck you!

5. OBVIOUS CHILD
Written and Directed by Gillain Robespierre 

The first great abortion comedy, OBVIOUS CHILD is hilarious down to its fertile core. SNL alum Jenny Slate stars as struggling Williamsburg hipster comic Donna who "would like an abortion, please," and respectfully declines hearing the other options from the Planned Parenthood counselor. She likes the guy she met on a one-night stand, Max (Jake Lacy, from THE OFFICE), who was too drunk to get the condom on, but not enough to keep the baby, or even tell him, especially since he might be a closet Christian. Credit a beautiful script by director Gillain Robespierre (based on her short film of the same name) that we never doubt Donna's sensitivity to her situation, even as the jokes fly furious. We can respect that her mind is made up and that she's smart and has considered her options without needing to hear them from a pro-life zealot and is neither martyr nor lost soul, checking her own tendency to leaven her inner tension to convey she's aware of the gravity of the situation, yet never presuming that tension is somehow 'valid' because of the surrounding controversy. There's such a perfect flow between Slate and the material it's hard to believe it's all not happening in the moment, with special attention to the way people actually talk --not 'normal' people, the kind of banal life-affirming doltishness Hollywood jadedly associates with the 'true America'--but real young Williamsburg or Greenpoint-dweller college-educated witty individuals. I've seen this kind great naturalistic flow only with the best 'ensemble' female comedy teams--Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in BRIDESMAIDS (2007); Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer in BROAD CITY--women who've done enough improv and rehearsal to make their characters breathe and roll rather than submitting to some half-assed plot twists thrust on them by some clueless male or self-hating female screenwriter. (more)

6. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Dir. Matt Reeves

It's not quite the howl of freedom for oppressed primates that the original was, more a ballad about what's good in tribal living vs. bad, the way one act of violence ricochets forever with ever-increasing retaliations--that fear makes sure we're never more than a swing state away from dystopia --unless some kind of forgiveness is learned, and the painful idea that the animal kingdom may inherit our violent species-ist paranoia, that the inhumane medical experiments on primates will have dire and far-reaching consequences to our collective karma. In short, it must be hard to work in a slaughterhouse all day unless you're a Conservative Republican. How else do you live with your crimes--the ones needed just to survive--without the ability to become a sociopath as needed? And of course, Andy Serkis is still our new century's technological groundbreaker. He is to motion capture technology what Sinatra was to the condenser microphone, what Louis Armstrong was to small combo jazz-- its full expression beyond what we thought possible in a dawning medium. Serkis' Caesar here is so human as to be recognizably animal, and--like it does for Kim Jong Il--the goofy face of James Franco projected on a screen has uncanny power for him. Serkis' Caesar elevates both species just as the factual Kim Jong denigrates just ours --either way, el Franco is there.

7. IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?
Dir. Michel Gondry

Noam Chomsky + magic markers + Michel Gondry = Magic. Chomsky delves into the roots of language, how our entire unconscious is structured by basic rules of grammatical structure (or vice versa), and the way the symbolic register coheres between the real and imaginary like both the greatest and worst thing that can possibly happen to not just interpersonal communication but the formation of the human thought process, from neuron to mental image, infancy through old age, in a flash of a neuron, and all while Gondry weaves hand-drawn magic marker miracles illustrating everything far more perfectly than any lone still image or real life recreation ever could --  even when, as a freely admits, he's getting it wrong. Daring geniuses with fathomless limits of benevolent creative compassion, man.

Dir. Ben Wheatley

Great as the existential Sartre-Godot-Aristophanes-style robust gallows humor is, and the weird mystical angles with ropes into the alternate realities, etc., the peak aspect comes from a unique recreation of a ground zero time-distilled psilocybin freak-out wherein--buzzing and soaring in and around its droning center--the score sirens out across a series of overlapping strobes and mirror splitting. And you might say yeah yeah, that mirror effect hasn't been fresh since Led Zeppelin's Song Remains the Same, (I even used it in Queen of Disks) but you're wrong! Shit is fresh! And the strobe cutting is so seizure-inducing it comes with a warning label, but 'tis no stoner fucking about but a calculated specific effect. Wheatley and Amy Jump, who co-edited the film, alternate split second imagery until new shapes emerge that breathe and pulse. On one hand it's nothing too different than what one might shoot with their friends on mushrooms in the graveyard as I once did (and Syd Barrett before me) there's no unusual sight or diegetic sound (I was thinking for sure they'd switch film stock to color for the tripping parts, ala Wizard of Oz or Jose Marin's Awakening of the Beast) but the strobing overlapping images create a truly psychedelic effect, the two or more images cohering into one buzzing throbbing molecular NOW waiting for us all just outside the veil, ala William Blake or the old school alchemist woodcuts. And the thin fiberoptic line between waking life and the collective archetypal unconscious is frayed for a moment rare, and the black hole sun overlap between waking and dreaming is exposed afresh, and the union of birth and death, past and future, real and unreal, speed and stillness up our perceptions fast enough that death's hidden-from-the-sober-living flag unfurls for all three of your agog eyes and the psychedelic peak across linear time's usually uncrossable river is at last crossed. And when one returns to the sane bank of sanity, one is a renewed, a third eye Popeye coming back from the dead and now completely made of atomic spinach. (More)

9.a. THE LEGO MOVIE
Dir. Phil Lord

It's hard not to swoon and get chills from the cumulative emotional effect of this well-thought out barrage of sensory stimuli. And I'm grateful for its message about letting your freak flag raft inflate and never buy Lego sets that come with instructions and guides to how to build cities, because it will make your dad into a control freak. It might dampen sales of such sets, but it's a lesson needs teaching, because with cell phones it's never been so easy to hover. Hopefully helicopter parents who see this with their kids can maybe see the error of their ways with the kids right in the same room, and that's golden. Though once again, Hollywood's idea of the 'average guy' hero is painfully narrow --the blankest and naivest of nerds.

Dir. Randy Moore

Little CGI flashes of animatronic fangs, blackening pupils, shining hypnotizing jewels, and fairy wings all work wondrously ambiguous in this undersong testament to the madness and derangement that results when immersed too deeply in Disney's subversive archetypal psychology-accessing 'scape, where mind and fantasy land are one, enabling the idea that, in order to appreciate a fake wonderland, your schizophrenia has to supply the missing details--and as with Antonioni, the realization there are details that aren't missing is the post-modern frisson. Having never tripped at Disney World I'm not sure if this is what it's like, but I'm guessing it's like the classic SIMPSONS episode where the kids go to Duff Gardens and Lisa ends up drinking the water under the log ride and hallucinating wildly, and eventually declaring "I am the Lizard Queen." And little moments like the pool scene, wherein both the girls and the wife seem to be both pulling him towards them and away at the same time until he seems trapped in the center of the pool like a spooked Marilyn caught between Gable and Clift rodeo lassos. Lifeguards pull him out of the water thinking he's drowned; has he? Is this what it's like in your last hours on earth? Are heaven and hell really all commingled in a land of fake castles, expensive glamorous witch costumes, "plushies," and nubile woodland fauns with braces? Considering all the photos being taken in the park every day it's hardly surprising that a guerrilla film could be pulled off under their noses, but it's still an audacious move, throwing legal safety to the wind (Disney is a notoriously rigid enforcer of their copyrights) along with any semblance of sanity or logic, an--aside from a few missteps, such as a scatologically unfortunate climax (I went into the other room until the gross noises stopped)--it's pretty damned artsy. Even the shots that are obviously filmed against a blue screen of park footage ring with an absurdist post-modern unease (MORE)

10. a-c: The Marvelverse:
CAPT. AMERICA- THE WINTER SOLDIER
Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Dir. James Gunn
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Dir. Bryan Singer

GUARDIANS left me all verklempt with the giddy boy rapture I felt watching STAR WARS at some North Carolina theater, months before anyone else knew about it; this time I was the very last to know how Chris Pratt is a genius in the lead, as he fits the perfect cool older brother mode, what Han Solo was to us 70s kids, sparing us the icky Luke looking at horizons and aww shucking with Uncle Ben business and getting right to the good stuff. Story-wise it's nothing new - but neither was STAR WARS. It's mythic so doesn't need to be; just savor the nonstop feast of imagination and great cut-through-the-crap dialogue Marvel is by now bracingly good at.

(From Dystopian Parables for the Masses:) In WINTER... the moment of exposing the demon face behind the mask is akin to when rumor and conspiracy theory starts to lock shut, too late to resist it, no time to plan a defense. When what you didn't see coming comes not on the horizon ahead of you but behind you, next to, within, making its move only when its sure all resistance has been pre-demonized as terrorism and disarmed, isolated, and surrounded, then the NSA takes off its mask and the Sixth Reich Paperclip draconian totalitarian future-present is right there, and has been, in disguise all this time, and the Homeland Security emblem turns out to be a scrambled up swastika just waiting to re-form, and it's too late to do anything about it because we've signed all our freedoms away because we got all scared when the news waved some Muslims at us (Muslims the Homeland Security/Nazis themselves funded). We chased the messenger Snowden who tried to tell us what was happening. God help us, we activated SKYNET. General Ripper was right! They've infiltrated our precious bodily fluids.

But the best... X-MEN. Now that Bryan Singer's returned, there's no super hero series ever been better. With the anti-mutant hate and fear making an ideal modern parable for everything from homosexuality to drug abuse, and bolstered immeasurably by the powerhouse acting and great love-hate relationship between Fassbender and McAvoy, it's not only knock your socks off badass fun, it's potent. Not in a tired IRON MAN 3 Pepper belittling of manly nonsense way, saving the Earth as a poor excuse not to settle down and blah blah but in a truly understanding the guts it takes to stop drinking or using heroin, or coming out of the closet, asking for help when your gay, abused, or suicidally depressed kind of way. In addition, it has an ingenious fusing of time travel, superhero myths and good writing / great acting that make it in a class by itself. The worst thing about it is Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique (maybe she's overextended?). With her cross-eyed yellow stare and terrible bottle "red" hair (the type of rust color so inevitable amidst the bitter divorcees of the UES) she's a slight on the great and underrated Rebecca Romjin's ferociously icy adult version in the original trilogy. That said, it resonates and McAvoy and Fassbender are perfect, each a master class in how to bring Shakespearean gravitas without sacrificing a drop of that old comic book zing.



11.a/b - Entre les Maenads:
UNDER THE SKIN
Dir. Jonathan Glazer
VENUS IN FUR
Dir. Roman Polanski

"Stand over there! Dominate me!" these two seemingly contradictory commands given by Polanski-esque stand-in Mattieu Amalric (the bad guy in QUANTUM OF SOLACE) to Polanski's real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner in VENUS. Her character veers from begging him for the lead role while dripping wet and disheveled for a last ditch audition as he's packing his script notes to go home--to having him beg her to stay while she badmouths the infantile myopia at the heart of his beloved Sacher Masoch source text. From this beginning, Polanski proves once again he's the one true inheritor of the von Sternberg-Bunuel dog collar. To prove it, she even starts talking in fake German saying she's adding some Dietrich to her role. As a Woman who seems too educated on the intricacies of Masoch's text to be just a part-time temp / call girl / actress threatening to call actor's equity one minute and taking his money and passport the next while he becomes more and more dependent on her brazen gleaming energy, Seigner runs with her part (she's also several inches taller --something that never seems to faze the diminutive Polanski with his giant brides).


 (From Antichrist in Translation:) "Under the Skin tries hard to puncture some hidden and vital vein in our culture, the way any sense of a dislocated universal all-seeing perception dissolves in the dead of night in the middle of nowhere; Scarlett drives slowly trying to lure into her SUV figures of hunched over men, pummeling their way on foot through the darkness, shopping or working long after normal people go to sleep, and Scotland especially seems as abandoned by God as the most lifeless corner of the galaxy...

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12. a/b -When Good Moms Go Bad
THE BABADOOK
Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent
OCULUS
Dir. Mike Flannagan

There's a special nightmare sense of forlorn abandonment when moms turn evil, turning the once-secure house into something foreboding and sinister. In both these films, children must be very very brave as their parents are possessed, and--among other things--block all access to the outside world, to sane rational adults who might help. In other words, the Overlook is anywhere a parent is susceptible to the madness of isolation. If dad's alive and regularly gets out of the house to work, maybe reality will have a fighting chance. But if he's dead or gone or works from home, the monsters get him early on. All it takes--as we learn on THE HAUNTING TV show--is for the kid's screaming about bogeyman under the bed to rob him of a few nights sleep and he becomes the very bogeyman they fear.

In OCULUS, dad spends long hours of the night in his front room office with a strange antique mirror and gradually it makes him go very very bad. And mom's not far behind. The film brilliantly collapses flashbacks from childhood and current paranormal investigations, so eventually both sides see each other from beyond the pale. (See full review).


In BABADOOK, the widowed mom of a precocious and possibly deranged boy must resist a dark energy that's overtaken her (spurred by a lack of sleep that's due largely to the kid's constant barging in - which also prevents her from 'ahem' - due to a monster under the bed and in the closet). I'm not sure it's as great as some critics are saying, nor UNDER THE SKIN either --but if I hadn't read all this gorgeous advance press maybe my expectations would have been sufficiently lowered, as they were for the magnificent OCULUS. What's great about BABADOOK is the tight attention to Jungian fairy tale detail. We see all the time how too much surface goodness gives rise to erupting gushers of crude oil evil, never about the vice versa. (full review)
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TELEVISION

With whole series dropped all at once, expressly for "binge viewing" - it's clear more than ever that thanks to cable and Netflix, the line between TV and cinema are quickly blurring beyond all recognition. So on that note, for the first time on Acidemic, the best-of the year for TV:

Adult Swim - Cartoon Network

No amount of David Lynch or Eric Andre can compare with or prepare you for TOO MANY COOKS, the recent 12 minute long informercial on Cartoon Network. No matter where you think this bizarrity can go, it goes far farther than a fur-forn farddio brand of beyond the black rainbow farrity, beyond even the swords of photo bomb "Bob" Dobbes / giallo and Fun with Real Audio What on Was the Britney old Thinking SNL. See it and understand the cryptic proclamations of the pie Von Trier, and understand, at last, how the need to break free from our programming is so intrinsic to our identity as to be inseparable from the programming itself. It's enough to make lesser actors go mad but that's enlightenment: the acceptance of one's eternal actor darkness. Heaven for an actor is just the Hell of a sitcom cycle of endless retooling fully surrendered to, letting your ego construct dissolve as the infernal flames lick your soul clean for sweeps week, award season, reruns, royalties, stalker fans, Buddhist hell, sweet sweet royalties and backforth... backatcha... and baller. (see it here) (royalties)

2. BLACK MIRROR
BBC Channel 4

... as far as nightmare dystopian parables, BLACK MIRROR is twenty years ahead of its closest neighbors and that it's on Netflix streaming is just too perfect as far as metatextuality. Watch and be warned, though: This show questions the very presence of media in your life in ways I know I, personally, wasn't quite ready for. The show has left a burnished patina of dread to my life; the usual amniotic safety of the widescreen HD image is no longer so reassuring. There's no magic at work, no hallucinations, no monsters in BLACK MIRROR - just sci fi-tinged (but believable as a real possibility) future dystopia parables about where the light speed advancements in digital media and advertising saturation are hurtling us, and maybe it's already too late to change. Maybe all those contracts we clicked 'I accept' on have quietly stripped us of 'real' self, like watching a commercial for the swinging pendulum from the couch-strapped pit, as thousands of avatars cheer from nearby screens, or the razor coming at your eye in a Dali or Fulci film right as you leave the last few scraps of 'reality' behind and enter the no-exit image, trapped in a nightmare feedback loop. It's a feeling I had forgotten about, safe in my mediated womb, a feeling I know only from the few times I took way way too much acid back in the 80s. But this show's got my mediated womb all cased out and they cut right in... . (MORE)

3. BROAD CITY
Comedy Central

These girls are so great I wish they didn't feel the need to add this doofus pantless roomate (not even a roommate, a freeloader more or less) who eats all their food. It's basic NYC 101 learning how to get rid of dipshits like this, and these girls aren't naive simpletons like the ones in FRANCES HA or JUNO, so what the fuck? I've kicked a fair share of crashers out of my apartments and houses since I moved out from my parents in 1985, and so has my roommate, who once even threw Andy Dick out. Had to eject him out of the building. But do it he did. It's a rite of NYC passage to evict the mooch and the dork and the wally. That aside the show is priceless. How rare to see smart as whips, hard-partying girls not afraid to get belligerent or violent in the name of posterity. Check out their holiday guide where they among other things start an orgy, smoke weed in the bathroom and hurl molotov cocktails. 

4. Kyle Mooney's "Wing" and "Bad Boys" short clips on SNL
NBC
It's a testament to the power of their post-modern genius that I have almost no frame of reference for the 90s TGIF line-up (shows like STEP BY STEP, FULL HOUSE, FAMILY MATTERs, etc.) Kyle Mooney and Co. are presumably satirizing here. Awkward and bizarre, they speak to the weird overreactions to small things; in my day it was WHAT'S HAPPENING? and the bootleg taping a Doobie Brothers concert, here it's throwing someone else's ball back and forth without permission from its owner or the gay come-ons attached with getting the last wing. Either way the atonal strangeness, on-point guitar lick scene change cues, completely random cutaways, deadpan monotone acting and keyed-up studio audience laugh track all combine to make these small masterpieces of post-modern deadpan hilarity. Overall, this season's SNL was very uneven (and no end in sight to the mealy Jost) but there were two shining lights: the larger-than-life wild woman energy of Leslie Jones, and the amazing Kyle Mooney (see here for his brilliant calling card, "smoking")

5. THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW
Adult Swim - Cartoon Network


I'm a big fan of deconstruction mixed with literal destruction, especially when harnessed to genuine subversive wit and not just gross-outs and double entendres. I can't literally can't stomach TIM AND ERIC, for example, but I like that both Andre and co-host Hannibal Buress are black yet race never really factors into the show - which is more about bizarro mondo video moments of near Subgenius-abstraction, i.e. they don't need their blackness. Instead they have a bemused band, sullen Mexican day laborer producer, and strange gags, including guests that turn out to be deranged impersonators, rappers, and confused B-listers. It's short, too.

6.a. THE LATE LATE SHOW
CBS
6.b. THE COLBERT REPORT (w/Stephen Colbert)
Comedy Central

Goodbye you beautiful bastards' current incarnations.

7. the Lucas Bros. Moving Co. (Hi-Def Animation)
Fox
They're like the Brooklyn stoner version of the Olsen twins. 

8. DRUNK HISTORY
Comedy Central

Here are important or at least interesting moments in history, generally not taught in school, that need to be learned. Some of our historian drunks don't seem to take to the format as well as others (it probably helps to lay down a good bed first) but the booze works to short circuit any prosaic meandering while adding the oomph of revelry and truth, and the idea of getting an all-star cast to enact and lip sync the drunkenly related narrative is genius and the overall effect makes it the most tangible and accessible of all history shows, ever. Originally a Funny or Die video series, I hope it breeds similar education-subversion hybrids. Drugs and alcohol have a long history of being associated with idiocy, burn-outs, the unemployed and mean-- this show proves they can be associated with edshacation too.

9. HOMELAND - season 4
Showtime

I wanted to avoid continuing series like MAD MEN but HOMELAND is now free of Brody and his nagging family--and thus is barely even the same show. Carrie's tenuous sanity is accepted as a reasonable risk for her bravery and brilliance and by setting it Islamabad, involving a Pakistani government more friendly to the Taliban than they publicly admit, the show gamely gives us a CIA that starts out more or less the bad guys, with Carrie known as 'the Drone Queen' for her merciless bombing from the air of Taliban figures -but nothing is as it seems and it all seems to reach a peak with a storming of the US Embassy. Carrie even has a similarly brilliant counterespionage spy lady foe, and there are tons of explosions, Duck Phillips, a possible friendly Pakistani ally, a hostage exchange, escapes, and other riveting stuff, the highlight being a deranged Carrie freaking out on psychedelic-spiked meds while loose in the Islamabad streets.

10.  FROM DUSK TIL DAWN - season 1
El Rey Network

The Robert Rodriguez-backed new cable channel El Rey (read my shuddering praise here) premiered with the From Dusk til Dawn series, a ten episode-long retelling/elaboration of the RR-QT 1999 film, adding the full measure of hallucinations and replacing Tarantino in the part of psycho brother Richie Gecko with a much more mesmerizing lad named Zane Holz. As Richie's brother and fellow bank robber Seth, D.J. Cotrana diffuses Clooney's terminal charm with hothead overreactions, so now the two feel like real brothers who actually grew up together, rather than the charismatically mismatched Quentin and Clooney. And the queen Mayan reptilian hottie Santanico Pandimonium (Selma Hayek in the original) has a much more integral part with lots of dialogue and empowering femme fatale inscrutability, fully and luxuriantly embodied by Mexican TV actress/pop singing star (and staggering beauty) Eiza Gonzalez. T2's Robert Patrick is the disillusioned preacher, Don Johnson the Michael Parks sheriff, and a cast of handsome well-spoken Mexican-American actors with either admirable swagger or furrowed brow intensity as an array of partiers, bikers, tourists, hostages, and vampires. The ten part series all occurs over the course of one 24-hour period, from dusk to dawn more or less, which slows things way down with that old tick-tockality and a novelistic attention to detail. And I love any movie or series that can go all night.  (MORE)
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