In a vacuum, the toxin-caked astringency of Akira Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well would signal a filmmaker who craved for the humanist swagger and fainting individualism of the Wild West of Japan’s past. Peering into Kurosawa’s future – the dueling Technicolor nightmares of Kagemusha and Ran in particular – announces a different tale, however, instead glimpsing a weary, woebegone director whose life had flashed before him and curdled his soul cold. The Bad Sleep Well, positioned in Kurosawa’s canon, is no simple reactionary slice of “they don’t live ’em like they used to” beckoning for a pre-modern era, but a more soul-crushing, shrieking wail of unfettered nihilism that crosses time periods and engulfs any waiting patrons regardless of era. The Bad Sleep Well is not an indication of a cantankerous Kurosawa, but a head-shaking humanist having been collapsed and exhausted by society and left with nothing but the ramshackle tatters of an embittered and embattled mind. Continue reading
Alexander Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth suggests a beguiling, fractured-mirror psychodrama on the surface, nearly begging to be misrepresented as reduction or mere pastiche of ’70s art house post-Hitchcock from an unnamed, presumably chilly, Middle European far off nether realm. Un-suture the cluttered hash-work of staples, though, and the metaphorical blood runs white-hot in this ostensibly cool-blue chamber piece of glistening neurosis belying autumnal fading friendship. There’s warmth and liveliness here, darkly comedic energy and even occasional buoyancy, enough to keep the tale from functioning as arid, manipulative still-water but only so much to ensure this emotional swampland never turns into a lightweight river raid. If this is Bergman, it’s flying for the left-of-center targets, the more unhinged ones like Hour of the Wolf. Don’t call it Persona 2.0.
Perhaps no canonical director rambunctiously, even violently, defies reputation and expectation like the young German enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Welles was the cocksure bon vivant who saw to it that Hollywood would crawl back to the primordial expressionism it stewed forth from. Tarkovsky was the impressionist shaman of grand cinematic spirituals. Dreyer the hallucinatory chronicler of personal spaces invaded and regained. Kubrick the possibly psychotic, probably anti-human mad scientist and arch-stylist. Kurosawa was a swaggering painter, Ozu gently serenaded the world into his dioramas of the soul, Mizoguchi bonded himself to ethereal, ghostly portals into the hazy nether realms of the human experience. Even Godard famously resorted to generalizations: There was theater (Griffith), poetry (Murnau), painting (Rossellini), dance (Eisenstein), music (Renoir). Henceforth there is cinema. And the cinema is Nicholas Ray”, a bold declamation and a line in the sand for the B-movie bravado of the French New Wave. And if you criticize him for his over-simplications, you can’t but tacitly endorse a couple of them. Continue reading
Something plainly went wrong with What We Do in the Shadows: the film turned out great. The concept – a cadre of vampires from varying ages room together and struggle to adapt to the norms of modern life – is so high that it ought to lose oxygen in five minutes and induce rigor mortis. The also-concept is even worse: What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary, the hoariest cliché of the decade following television’s inability to put the format to rest post-The Office, a fact that allows the film to exploit the increasingly aesthetic-less handheld camera more common every year these days. I don’t know that Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who co-direct and co-write, single-handedly save the whole trend from a way-past-due stake in the heart, but bless them for trying. What We Do in the Shadows ought to be a mere parlour trick, but in practice it is much closer to a satanically devious nocturnal charmer. Continue reading
Judicious in its employment of verbiage but verbose, if not over-zealous, in its cinematic vocabulary, Ryan Coogler’s Creed is neither sequel, nor remake, but a variation on a theme. The working class hero pounding and clobbering his way into the American Dream has always been the root of the series, but Creed – a film that, if it loses to Rocky, only fails via a narrow split decision – must contend with different combatants. That it proves able to learn from its forebearers and expand upon their successes, and failures, in the process is the film’s greatest majesty. After all, it’s every parent’s dream for their offspring to better them. As Creed plaintively contemplates, it may be the only plausible dream Rocky has left. Continue reading
S. Craig Zahler’s presumably burgeoning film career is a sabbatical from his day job as purveyor of literature and music, and Bone Tomahawk’s loquacious side treks and dogmatic refusal to gallop when it may trot reflect Zahler’s literary ambitions. They also lightly, even cunningly, mock the same longueurs – for such an ostensibly single-minded film, its penchant for tangential refrains is likely a pointed critique of characters who don’t always seem particularly driven to their cause to begin with. The dialogue is delivered by a deliciously bone-dry Kurt Russell, returned to us at least and seemingly in on the film’s joke, as well as the always reliable Richard Jenkins and Patrick Wilson and the usually unreliable Matthew Fox who here rises to the occasion. Continue reading