Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of 2016

A dirty super dude/mutant lying back in a speeding garbage truck: is there a more apt image for 2016? Only one: Harley Quinn, a sexy blonde with rocket popsicle-colored hair, a bat slung over her shoulder (the bat has replaced the bow for woman's weapon of choice). Gone gonzo loco at the hands of the Joker, she--like Deadpool--demonstrates a fathomless tolerance for madness, pain, frustration, and garbage,  the requirements for anyone hoping to survive 2017. One must either join it, slam that whiskey shot and grab a blackjack and dive into the melee, or just stand on the sidelines in aghast horror, your threats of moving to Canada or Europe as empty as they were 12 years ago. Maybe instead you should think about moving to Germany, being an expatriate artist and letting the circle be complete. I know that's what I'm thinking about. But I've been thinking about it for 120 years.

Madness. Considering all the other BLACK MIRROR stuff going on, America shouldn't be too surprised it's having a "Waldo Moment." In fact, we should have seen it coming. The surer we are about something, the more likely it is to surprise us and be something else. For example, the one movie I was sure I'd love, THE NEON DEMON, well, I did not. The one Marvel comic villain I was sure I'd dislike, Oscar Isaac in X-MEN APOCALYPSE, turned out to be the best part of that woeful step backwards for Bryan 'just another Ratner" Singer.

Nothing makes sense. We need to go back over the facts and see where we veered from them. We drove around that signpost up ahead / through the looking glass / above the clouds, beyond the rain, and we can either hang around the munchkins like a bad penny or throw apples at flying monkeys like a local and trust we'll find our way back when our back is good and ready cuz we never lost it to begin the beguine with. Hell, even the Satanists are worried for humanity now, as fake news fuels "won't someone think of the children?!" hysteria to levels not seen in this country since the red scare of 1954, or Salem 1693.

Whatever. This is a place for wolves now. Very. drunk. wolves

It's still 2016 as I write this, a year where little moments made the big horrible picture more easily avoidable and just as it did in the early 80s when my generation was STRANGER THINGS age, comic books stepped in like a whole new kind of truth, far more urgent and vivid than anything as ridden with petty agendas as the actual 'true' news. Money doesn't fill the seats and stuff so carefully calibrated for class and awards import makes not a bit of sense or weight either. I can imagine JACKIE being sooo great, but who really cares, unless it's to perhaps make the point that our martyring of JFK and horror over Trump the next are really just two reflections of the same eddy in the same empty icon swamp. Coming back from the holidays with our red-blue state divides drawn along the dinner centerpiece, things should be coming very clear.... we're not fooling anyone by thinking we're above the shit line. We're all crazy Americans looking for an image to follow around like a red flag waving an empty bull.

Dir. Tim Miller

If Terry Southern were writing superhero movies they would certainly reflect the cheeky youth of today's unique PC-hipster vulgarity instead of his own sex-obsessed, patriarchally presumptive, eternal anti-authoritarian (political) satire on male vanity--which seems archaic if allowed to linger too long (i.e. after the first brilliant half of CANDY). That shit wouldn't fly today, but the kind of humor in DEADPOOL on the other hand is so pop culture-obsessed, it will never date, anymore than TWENTIETH CENTURY has dated with all its CAMILLE and RAIN references. The frenzied control of GOODFELLAS runs headlong into a Marx Bros. under the knife saga that's one part Billy Eichner, one part Wolverine when he was still a badass (the first two X-MEN films), Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN if he was less of a tech geek playboy and more of a sarcastic mercenary who'd rather slow jam to Wham!, play skeeball, start fights at his merc watering hole and beat up stalkers--and all of the EXPENDABLES flame-circumcised down into a helium and mocha jave whippet. Reynolds whose voice indicates he's never smoked a cigarette or even been near an open flame is another of the great macho fey icons to come prancing down the pike, fearlessly flouting his mastery of all the pffft-sounds in the Ikea catalogue.

The right kind of deep voice is important to me (since both I and my father have one) but if a straight brother's gonna own his girliness I can totally get behind that. With Mr. Pool here, you can call him a girl and we wont be offended, but with that PC innateness comes an unwillingness to turn one's back on the merely puerile and with a confidence in this one franchise at least it's okay to shoot the villain point blank in the head after you have him at your mercy. Finally, and thank god.

For these myriad other reasons my artsier reader might bemoan this choice for #1, might think I'm slipping, a further slide that began back when I declared DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES superior to Lars von Trier's MELANCHOLIA, but this film is a great big messy obscene masterpiece of the sort that's so voraciously outside the box and fresh you can smell the dirt - the filthy dust that box has been buried in nigh under 540 years. See it as I did,  while waiting for CRT scan test results after being initially diagnosed with COPD, and barely able to breathe, wondering if your clock is now speeding up, death looming fast, and then suffering the horrible withdrawal from smoking that accompanies such fear like an electric amp, so stretches of being diagnosed with terminal cancer, and then subjected to a horrific airless vacuum tube torture chamber where you slowly suffocate but the machine keeps giving you just enough to keep you from passing out or falling asleep. I knew Mr. Pool understood, and that helped.

Also there was someone finally aggressive enough to slice off a bad guy's head then drop kick the head into another guy right behind camera, one of the coolest moves in fight history. As the girlfriend, Moreena Baccarin rocks so hard, bro. Impossibly hot yet hilarious, she seems born into this kind of rattatat tat Hawksian hipster wry humor; TJ Miller is terrific as the bartender buddy --way funnier than just that gross 'avocado had sex with another avocado' soundbyte they mark him in; Gina Carano is the henchmen! When the Brit bad guy has a girl doing his heavy duty ass kicking for him, well, we really are making social progress. There's even two X-Men, tying the franchise to be in with that one, though hilariously there are only two (insert meta comment), one the giant Russian Colossus (kind of weakly animated and voiced, but so what? it works); and Teenage Dynamo Rocket or something, a girl too young to get DP's oblique Sinead O'Connor references re: her short crop hair, and who's wide ungainly girl frame matches well the wider stance of this post-UFC Carano, and reminding too of how Rothrock was in the old days- which is to say, they look like genuine, real brawlers, not dancers or models. And even the soundtrack is refreshing in its emphasis on 70s-80s lite FM, from Wham! to "Just call me Angel of the Morning" - rather than endless beatz and traxx. In short, it's a whole new realm of masculine crying, and undying, with fey men and brawler babes. There's not even an issue with proposing to a prostitute strip club bartender (Peckinpah would be so pleased), or telling your cab driver to kill his romantic rival and dump the corpse on his girlfriend's porch. 

Dir David McKenzie

When people really are from the place their characters are, they don't need to make the characters 'normal' in the way privileged clueless screenwriters cloud their dialogue in sanctification of the common man, like Barton Fink or Sullivan (the characters, not the films), or any of the Commie rats in the below Coen film. When lesser writers do these chamber piece red state bank robber brother-bonding odysseys they get hung up on big messy Oscar-bait drinking scenes. They write not for themselves but their didactic Sundance teacher from that old workshop they attended: what's 'real,' man vs. the hardship blah blah. Here it's the way the bank robbing pair of brothers--specially the older, wilder jailbird one (Ben Foster), constantly surprise us with their natural, easygoing back and forth. We also have the laconic, near-retired sheriff, his Navajo (but half-Mexican and devout Christian!) deputy, and all the lawyers and bank tellers and waitresses in between. They don't need those artificial 'weathered' facial cracks big budget films give people in the Heartland to give off the feeling of being where they are. Here the the flat endless horizon-line is a kind of TV, everyone trains their eyes on it and they stare at each other the same way, waiting for one or the other to make a move for their gun. The acting matches the writing, each so good the other gets better because of it. Chris Pine more than lives up to the promise he showed in the STAR TREKs -- moving so deep into character you'd swear he was found by a roaming casting director hitchhiking through Arlington. I had lines of his and his brothers' ringing in my head for weeks afterwards.

Dir. Chris Kelly

As any story by David Sidaris illustrates, if you want to see a complex, cool, badass hilarious woman, look to the mom of an brilliant, gay humorist. Here, fusing genuinely transgressive hilarity with emotional gut-punch cancer mortality-facing, it's SNL writer Kelly's autobiographical tale of the last days with his. The performances have a lightning-in-the-bottle immediacy where you don't just see and hear him and his family members, but hear how each others' voice and style have influenced one another during formative pasts and the pokey but relentless way those traits re-manifest during stressful reunion. Molly Shannon's performance especially is so jaw-droppingly immense and complex you need to re-think all the other death bed scenes you've cried over, and there's a break-out WTF turn with child actor JJ Totah as a preteen fashion designer who leaves any visible distinction between male and female, masculine and feminine, clear in the dust. This is wrenching emotional comedy for people who hate all that manipulative twelve-hanky sentimental self-righteous bourgeois intellectual Tennenbaum bullshit. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be talking about it. But I am, brother.

Dir Denis Villeneuve

Science says this movie came out last year - but it came to cable this year, and that's where the fuckin' world saw it. No one wanted to pay $15 to see yet another goddamned movie about border-crossing drug gangs and the gringo cops that lose their souls scratching the surface. But on cable, if it springs up on you halfway through while idly surfing, then right quick you realize it's way better than we thought. Instead of trying to shoehorn human interest in with the border cop's soccer-lovin' son they should have played up the eerie enigmatic near-Apocalypse of the Lambs artistry at work, the refreshingly ominous and abstract use of sound, the way Jóhann Jóhannsson's droning ominous synthesizer casts an intoxicating pall over the proceedings, as if the bottom is slowly dropping out in an endless elevator to Hell that opens out onto the sky at the same time

The plot's the old familiar girl idealist in a grim clear-eyed man's world. Fuckin' both del Toro and Josh Brolin are so tight, the drive-thru into Mexico with the armored trucks to pick up a local drug higher-up on the chain, deep into the heart of the cartel beast, so to speak--bodies hanging off the overpass -- is so chilling you expect (and almost get) the giddy weird 'you are there' vibe of, say, being 16 and going to Trenton for your first major drug deal. As the moral compass Emily Blunt whispers through the whole movie like a lover trying not to wake her kids. Brolin and del Toro have such chemistry they're reminiscent of Clu and Lee in the '64 KILLERS. The easy realism of the various military-CIA-Texas Ranger joint-op briefings recalls the best Hawks' men-in-group maturity, which is so rare it must be savored, like a last meal.

Written and directed by Shane Black 

(PS - 6/17): I've cheated by sneaking this one on here late as I finally saw it on HBO for the fourth time and that really is the charm. More and more I'm noticing that there's really no one in Hollywood, EXCEPT Shane Black, who knows how to write great buddy dialogue, the kind that's fast and flowing in the real way two cool guys talk to each other and play off each other's energies. He's got it so down so pat now that he can even conjure it up with kids. I generally hate kids in movies but Black's written us two of the coolest kid characters ever, the kid in Iron Man 3 and now the daughter Holly (Angouri Rice) of the insouciant detective and single dad played by Ryan Gosling. The comedic rhythms between her, Gosling, and Crowe are so deft and daffy with crackerjack gonzo precision one is actually tempted to run away from its brilliance--it's so foreign in our banal pre-packaged milieu,  it's strange. Truth be told, I held off on seeing NICE for awhile as the ads made me groan as to another of those diffusion-filtered 70s-set HD nostalgia trips that seem created solely as an excuse for wide polyester collars, sideburns and only occasional (seldom enough to be realistic) cigarettes, and of course a nonstop 70s rock soundtrack. I thought NICE GUYS was going to be one of those jukebox art-direction driven pieces of inert sub-Scorsese terse fluff, but I was dead wrong. It's not perfect --I could do without Holly's trying to reform Crowe from killing people, especially her attempts to deliver first-aid to the guy who mere seconds ago was actively trying to kill her -- it's like dude, the censors don't care about that kind of shit anymore, what's with the bad faith?--but hey, Black is so far ahead of all other action writer-directors, I'll forgive the occasional reverse trespass.

Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo

Sure it's awful prescient in its tale of a ruthless Communist ripping America in half and setting the two sides at each other's throats, but CIVIL WAR has hit home in ways even closer than that (for me), Working in higher academia, I've had to watch, powerless, as it undergoes another of its groupthink overreach oversight micro-managing anal-retentive freak-outs (the last one being in the early 90s). Thank god I've got this Marvel entry to help me check myself from getting too far along in my righteous iconoclasm. Perhaps the first film ever--superhero or other--to really look at what's gained and lost when the submission of raw personal power to checks and balances/authority takes firm root. Now, more than ever, we may taste the bitter fruit of true democracy, but seeing the utter impossibility of complete lateral fairness and pulling the trigger anyway might be the most badass thing a badass can do. Either choice, we're miles away from the smarmy dialectic of authority as evil vs. a kind of saintly hot-rod confabulated conformist anticonformity. Both sides are right / both sides murder. I give up. Why can't they? What kind of superhero movie leaves even the audience divided, even the audience of one?

I'm firmly in the old iconoclast tradition--I hate being told I no longer have the ability to tell a hawk from a hacksaw because I didn't get a masters in Hacksaw-Hawk Differentiation--and yet I also respect the need others might have to try and hem me in, create some abiding set of rules and measurements to weed out the hacks who think they're hacksaw experts because they've got four different HAMLET adaptations on DVD (I only got three). When both sides are working with respect to the other's import, the trailblazer doing what he's told can't be or shouldn't because he feels it's right, and taking the shit from higher up but getting 'er done (giving his upperlings 'plausible deniability') and the organizer of a common consensus doing the yelling and number crunching but sometimes to the point of quagmire stalemate buck-passing loop-de-loops, we have a functioning democracy. The old gunfighters can be either like Jason Robards in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, or Merlin in EXCALIBUR, helping ensure the conditions by which their particular set of skills becomes obsolescent, as the Taoist way of things, or WILD BUNCH blaze of glory it out in cathartic bloodbath. Democracy is always in peril, we've never been more than a swing state away from HANDMAID'S TALE-dystopia, when we forget that, the Russian dictator-du-jour divides and conquers us as easy as the grieving Sokovia ops villain does here.

The brilliant casting includes William Hurt as the general, voted by the UN to helm 'the Sokovia Accords," and there's even, finally, a properly sarcastic and on-the-beam Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland --a Brit, naturally). Then there's the show-stopper fight at the airport--easily the funniest, best battle yet because really we root for both sides. There are no winners or victory dances this time, just declarations of fealty beyond borders or association. When the smoke clears, if it ever does, we'll be picking up our Deke Thornton and riding off into the laughing corner sunset of fuckit and Alvarado.

Special mention should be made at this juncture for DR. STRANGE, another solid Marvel hit,  but which I can't get too into; despite it being all up my alley (super-psychedelic), its arc is just too similar to 08's original IRON MAN, its look just too similar to the post-CROUCHING TIGER look of all HK and Mainland China movies, it's overwrought orchestral score uses a sitar way way too late in the game to count as psychedelic. But Rachel McAdams is still super gorgeous and can act the fuckall out of all the men who get bigger superpowers than her. There's enough wry wit and "the source code that shapes reality" hallucinogenics to give it an HM though.

by Joel and Ethan Coen

It might be the brothers' funniest, wryest most succinct thesis yet, triangulating some kind of common free zone between their pet themes (genre, geometry, water) through a bizarre chain of events wherein an up-and-coming cowboy actor manages to rescue a dunderheaded A-lister (George Clooney) from a cabal of Jewish communist kidnappers thanks to his unspoken fraternal rapport with studio head Josh Brolin who--in a rare moment of flummox--shares that he's toting around $150K in a suitcase for the ransom. The cast is of course perfect: Scarlett Johansen, rocking her Lawng Island accent, is an Esther Williams-meets-Jean Harlow bathing beauty; Channing Tatum is a Gene Kelly-cum-gay-commie-Nuryev, Ralph Fiennes is an abusive British director; and so forth. The comedic bits range from the shrill and misguided (Tilda Swinton's identical twin gossip hounds) to letter perfect sublime (Jonah Hill as the studio's dedicated legal example of 'personhood') and the studio seems remarkably underpopulated (no one walks around the studio except Brolin) but it's still zippy in its serious, controlled way.

Though the brothers seem ever sidetracked by their lavishly recreated musical numbers and the water symbolism (from the Scarlett water ballet to the gay sailor rhumba to the Russian submarine escape) doesn't add up to anything more than a wave lapping up against a discarded satchel of money, if you're a Godard fan who digs all the signifier-melting incongruities in PASSION or CONTEMPT, you will love seeing the silhouette of Josh Brolin's grey flannel suit against the Golgotha crucifixions when he prays on a midnight soundstage. Not all of it makes sense or holds together on close reflection (Brolin's character is way too overworked - he seems to be singlehandedly responsible for everything that goes on in this vast studio, from detective work to PR to money management to script doctoring), but it goes places we've not seen a Coen go since BARTON FINK and yet it spares us the Barton Fink feeling, and that in itself is worth a prayer, to the God of your choice.

Written and directed by David Ayer

David Ayer's Suicide Squad came out the same year Chimes at Midnight finally arrived on (Criterion) DVD / Blu-ray, and it's easy to mix them up. Falstaff's rousing his girth into conscription agent attire, letting the beasts out to fight bigger beasts as it were, using the debauched and breaking the phases, it all matches up. Today we hang in half-aware heir apparent fake laugh sanity, helping able souls hop onto the madness like a runaway trolley with no track and no floor and no wall. Jared Leto, as a Joker, silver teeth and lime rickey green and electric pink frame shudders as if the whole film is breathing lysergic insanity into his AirDancer-serpent-handler sway. Viola Davis in one of the great gender-bent (sort of) performances of the year; the ayahuasca anima in-the-subway strangeness of the Enchantress/June (Cara Delevigne) like the time-space shattering realization you've had wayyyy-y-y-y- too much and it's kicking in big-time; the sexy madness of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, her rocket-pop shimmering hallucination hair, the lighting beautifully capturing the gray shades in her clown make-up; her eyes wild and crazy, her chemistry with Leto's Joker is twisted and grand; Jai Courtney's Aussie accent in glorious disarray; a reptilian gangbanger; a flaming cholo; the Crazy 88s' surviving sword girl (a dud); Scott Eastwood, who believe it or not almost steals the movie with the cracked emotional tension in his low-ass voice; even Will Smith's inescapable 'good dad' daughter issues (my big fear going in) are well-handled.  Ayers did Training Day and Fury, or both, so rest assured this movie's way more macho in its even-gender-handedness than some pissing contest with Affleck's carb-faced Wayne like Superman vs. Batman. In fact the worst part of SG is Affleck's Batman who luckily only gets two or three scenes of bossy terseness. 

Ayers displays his ayahuasca savvy - shhh
Confession (shhhh): I will have a soft spot for this film all the rest of my life because I relapsed to it over Xmas (after 19 years sober!), as I just couldn't handle shit sober up in a tiny Arizona mountain cabin with my brother's loud drunk family --I'd spent 24 hours shivering with nausea and rage in a tiny room while they roared outside. Once I surrendered to the power of Absolut the madness hit me and I partied like the rest of them -as loud and as crazy --the beast loose and wild as if I'd merely said the word "Enchantress" and downed a magic vodka slug (I did do the latter). Six weeks later I was in the hospital from acute alcoholic withdrawal couple to bad reactions with my anti-depression meds. I don't exactly regret it, because I got Ativan in the hospital and that shit ROCKS! Back to Xmas, this movie fit my relapse so tight I knew it was predestined: Scott Eastwood with his hunched-over military brawler demeanor, smoker's voice (and pallor) and legitimately crazy eyes; the Brooklyn accent of Harley Quinn + the overall look of the other female baddie, 'the Enchantress' in her grungy form (above left)' are--fused together, my old friend from 'the rooms,' the gorgeously unhinged LA Ruocco (see her magically surface on a Coney Island beach in the climactic Jungian conversion of THE LACAN HOUR) coupled to salvia divinorum hallucinations and the best use yet of of day-glow neon colors, fighting within swirling smoke, crazy rain on clenched faces, and swirling magical waves of energy-matter beams. Since it's really about letting the imprisoned monsters out of their cages to fight a greater evil when there's no other recourse, how perfect (and I knew it the moment it started) that the first flush of vodka in 19 years hit me right as the film began with "There is a house in New Orleans" and Harley flipping her shit right out as the film seemed to bend and sway with her breathing.

Dig - and deep underneath, the film's really a dual love story, between the Joker and Harley; between the Dr. June Moon and wild-eyed Scott Eastwood's Special Ops guy Rick Flag (!) for romance -- and in the end, between members of the Squad, the way a shared traumatic experience + booze + confessions of bad guy issues bonds the outlaws, and through fearless courting of death, madness, and rainforest chanting. DC is still a long way off from reaching the stratospheric heights set by Marvel but this is the first time we've seen them actually move in a promisingly unique direction since Heath Ledger. There's even scenes like Viola Davis shooting her own staff: "they weren't cleared for any of this shit," and the weird things like the way all the Central American characters get goofy Aztec headdresses when they turn into fiery skeletons, and an editing format that sacrifices coherence not merely for thunder and lightning, but for letting moments actually land (PS - 3/8/13 - second viewing - now that I'm sober... again, or as we in AA call it, 'back in Arkham Asylum - less great; third viewing 4/19 - okay / Fourth Viewing - it IS still awesome!).

Dir Denis Villeneuve

Technically this is the Villeneuve film from 2016 though it seems older than SICARIO.  I know, I haven't shut up about my Amy Adams embargo all week, but how long, realistically, do you think that bargo can last? Bitch is in everything, yo. Even now Superman is on TV behind me and there she is. Appearing in just about every movie ever made this or any other year. Maybe there's a reason, beyond some shiksa-phobic Hollywood-royal blood line reptilian conspiracy, that ginger Adams is so ubiquitous (or Chastain in INTERSTELLAR and THE MARTIAN), but it's not in our control. ARRIVAL deals specifically with physically solid aliens whose sense of time is more elliptical than ours, and Amy's wizened gnome crow's feet, small clear white facial hairs and gnome-ish upturned nose all bespeak promise for the future, She's a thinker, an academic for whom adherence to some basic blueprint for eye-grabbing beauty hasn't even cracked her top ten list of things to do today. Cracking a complex alien code so that the movie can avoid being INDEPENDENCE DAY 3 and start being more like an INTERSTELLAR's TREE OF LIFE takes all precedence in her mind. No worries though, we're safe with hectapods instead of Sean Penn. The alien pair look like two giant hands soaking in Palmolive and so forth, to the point I wondered if the idea for these aliens came during one of those 'stoned hand discoveries' where, half-asleep after work or high for the first time in years, you suddenly notice the miracle / alien/ strangeness of your own hands? How alien they are --so attuned to our brain, so alive and unreal. Walruses watch our typing speeds with mounting envy.

As ever, a linguist shall be the first to take off her hazmat suit and trust in the aummm-moment. Military man Forrest Whittaker gets riled but realizes she's right. Meanwhile we learn why they used to keep aliens a secret as civilization descends into looting and arson and sabotage in the wake of these funky hectapods. Why wouldn't it? Why not? Because evolution, man. Read a book, dude. Humins Rule! Do we get a do-over? 

Dir. Guy Maddin

If you're in a Guy Maddin movie, the emulsion Ektachrome rust has happened ahead of time, two or three feet ahead --just enough for your nightmare third-eye fevered brain to hallucinate patterns upon the bubbling shower curtain into which your silhouette dissolves and merges. It's all just enough to distract you so so the skeleton insurance defrauders can lull you into a gentle trance, and thus procure your squirming signature on a contract. Just sign and they'll stop pestering you. You can sleep or gyrate in skeleton girl orgy if you just sign. SIGN. Sign here, Initial there and sleep. As I count down from 10--and on into the ever chugging night--9, the track culls you like a ticking clock scrubbing blackness from the pink skin of the sky by force of habit. 8 -What else does the world turn for, if not lack of other options? 7 -Has anyone convinced it to stop twirling like a mad idiot around the sun, stopped winding it?

Ektachrome moments, 'orbiting' like a moth desperate to burn back up in the mother light of an empty projector, to drink from the sun like a lunar mammary fountain. 6- Reborn as an angel. Every moth who made it past that shade has never told us they regretted it. Five-- Even if they're swept up with the dropped popcorn at the end of the night, they had that one cinematic moment... and they're still here, now, older than Berryman. They're gone now, 4 --but there's always another show. Another  bath - 3  - Goddamn it. 2 --There's always another 1 -- dirty show.... (full)

Dir. David Eggers

Shrouded in portentous gloom and ominous droning electric cello, THE WITCH (2015) is the first great woodsy pre-Salem devil film in 300 years, a SHINING for the ANTICHRIST x BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW subdivision of the HAXAN community (with a dash of the recent HONEYMOON if you're keeping track). Set in 1630s New England on a small tract of cleared woods, surrounded by deep autumnally barren trees and strange sudden houses, it's a character piece that delves into the same dark soul patches that many witch and devil movies make feints at but then run away from, i.e. literal interpretations of authentic superstitions and folk tales (in which witches, devils and magic are real), and court records and history (in which time has made it seem like a mix of religious hysteria, misinterpreted schizophrenia, and fear of the unknown). First time-writer/director Robert Eggers has a unique flair for the milieu--everything feels authentic including the natural lighting (candles and fires) and thin grey streaks of dusk at early evening's onset, the way the gray ambiguity of neither day nor night gives every living creature an unearthly nightmare aura. He makes being straightforward with both the paranoia and the reality into a dark art, connecting Polanski and Kubrick with Ahab's lightning harpoon to forge an historical look at repressed female psychic energy under dogmatic patriarchy within the mould of validation of that patriarchy's overwrought fear of the dark. (cont)

Dir. Ben Wheatley
There's some thin seriously wrong with this film but hey, it's yet another future classic by the team behind FIELD IN ENGLAND and KILL-LIST, Ben Wheatley and producer/writer Amy Jump (his Debra Hill if you will), so even if it ain't perfect, it's far beyond its peers. I almost stopped watching when the main antagonist, a louche, abusive drunk TV star played by Luke Evans (DRACULA UNTOLD) drowns an innocent dog for no real reason other than its owner is a rich snob (one of the more needlessly disturbing moments of the cinematic year). Of course JG Ballard's style. He loves him a rough trade rentboy getting away with murder in a society too polite and jaded to dispatch him. The metaphor (classes in the high-rise separated by floors) is a little left over from SNOWPIERCER which starred Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in a beard, but hey, his Avengers enemy Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is a medical teacher not above convincing rich twits they have inoperable brain tumors just to watch 'em snuff it. Its flaws are many but its narrative incoherence succinctly conveys the author's viscous misanthropy and in the process makes Cronenberg's Ballard adaptation of a few decades ago, CRASH, seem naught but a fender-bender. That a massive skyscraping residential building might lose its elevator service and electrical power and then never get it back, that this even might lead to a reversion to savagery on the upper floors (since it take literally hours of stair climbing to get up and down from each floor) is hard to believe, unless of course you've ever dealt with out-of-order elevators in a skyscraper, had to club 20 flights just to get some groceries, you know the pain. The cumulative context places HIGH-RISE exactly between DREDD, SHIVERS, and ZARDOZ --tellingly, not one film on that list is American. Heil-Rise Britannia and her Commonwealth. We should know --we used to be part of it. But look at us now! We bopped our way past! 

Dir. Peter Atencio
Key and Peele, man, WHAM!

Dir. The Duffer Brothers

This a great moment near the end of this amazing mini-series, where four boys are excitedly recalling the events of the past eight episodes to a rescued friend whose smile is so heartrendingly open and thrilled and the kids so animated that it's hard not to well up in a kind of paternal glow far beyond the usual mawkish nostalgic treacle; as a kid who read Stephen King and played Dungeons and Dragons with lead figurines and lived in that murky weird world of preteen boys with big imaginations and artistic finesse (i.e. bad at sports), I can vouch that someone finally did it right- even if it is the porn sounding 'Duffer Brothers"

There's Winona Ryder--doing batshit very well as that rescued kid's driven-crazy mom--and even if things don't always resolve well or wherever it goes, the film / show/  miniseries / whatever - it still does the Stephen King miniseries better than any actual Stephen King miniseries. The big soaring climactic emotions are all earned and unlike other shows that seem to be just having shit happen to keep you watching--threads woven and then abandoned; more and more threads and nothing woven; sharks jumped and lectured--ST has a genuine catharsis. The hero doesn't always get the girl or the single dad and single mom get together to somehow form a family.... but between the ominous analog synths, retro early 80s mood and fonts, this is everything we ever wanted to rent for the weekend from the video store.... you know, before Blockbuster -- when the video store meant the stereo appliance store.

3. BLACK MIRROR (Netflix)


1 comment:

  1. My favorite moment of Regulated Madness came during Stranger Things, when the government authority tried to pass off a rubber doll of the freaked-out mother's missing son to her as proof of his death. Quite a churn, this year.


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