Monthly Archives: January 2017

Review: The Wailing

large_z3ebp9hjbvkakrf1kazx6yiyme9Just when it seemed that the premier ‘00s national cinema for delivering international audiences into darkness was ready to find the light, Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing is here to raise some cain. With its bounty of sensory delights and cavernous, existential troughs, it warps its style so far past the safety regulation that South Korean cinema feels just about covered in full for a good decade or more. Swaggering and shaggy, The Wailing is a vibrant devil-in-a-new-dress tale of great lateral expanse and gothic grandeur, a wonderfully devilish repository of human foibles and elemental disturbances. It also offers a deep descent into humanity’s awkwardly slovenly attempts to fumble through traumatic and unexplainable events as grandiloquent gloom meets its mortal enemy: human imperfection. Continue reading


Review: Dog Eat Dog

11224272_10206777004816984_2139249160696441664_oPaul Schrader is definitely hell-bent on something, but I’m not sure he knows what it is. Say the least for the famous screenwriter, journeyman director, and racist-anti-racist: he’s using the theoretically democratic “direct” medium of video-on-demand releases for unhinged stylistic, aesthetic purposes rather than simply a way to achieve distribution when the theaters have abandoned him for his maddened ways. The addled, feverish style of Dog Eat Dog feels like Schrader’s attempt to unleash the agitation he feels at being mostly dumped from the A (or even B) list as a writer-director. Rather than simply releasing an A-picture, the kind that would pass in one theater and out the other in a week or so, Dog Eat Dog is so disobedient, even dysfunctional, that it would feel like a raving mad dog in the hallowed space of a film theater. With the screen always lashing out in some new stylistic or thematic direction (almost by the second), the public audience of a collective theater-going experience probably wouldn’t have known what to do with it.  Continue reading

“I guess Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart should be a thing…but with better films as their third wheel”: Cafe Society

mv5bnjk1njy4nje5n15bml5banbnxkftztgwmtu0ndg0ote-_v1_uy1200_cr8606301200_al_Decades into Woody Allen’s mirror maze career of inward-looking, self-reflecting gazes and upper-class first-world problems, a “new” thesis from this particular director whose only theater is his own mind is not exactly a prospect anyone is likely to expect any time soon. That Allen only ever repeats himself is, at this point, of less concern than whether his variations on old themes are inspired on their own terms. Without exactly spoiling anything, Café Society is the platonic ideal of Allen hovering around in his middle-brow, middle-tier. Café Society is more or less how you contextualize it, a prism for refracting one’s personal tolerance for the octogenarian who has canonized himself almost as many times as years he’s lived. A slight, pleasurable uptick in his continued slide into irrelevance? Another totem to his conceited brand of self-loathing self-aggrandizement that long ago lost its luster or rabid-dog intelligence? Café Society is all of the above and not much else. Which is to say: your mileage may vary. Continue reading

“I guess Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart should be a thing…but with better films as their third wheel”: American Ultra

cyz1mvnhma54ho3dpqx9Tipping the addled, agitated, and affronting aesthetics of the Bourne films over the edge into quasi-parody, American Ultra furnishes its very filmic form with the spasmodic, alternately jittery and slackened emotional register of its panic-stricken main character Mike (Jesse Eisenberg). A deactivated hitman for the CIA who brings new meaning to the word sleeper agent, Mike’s daily life upgrades ephemera to a principle of being. Once he is targeted for elimination, the style of the film, noticing flickers of comic minutiae amidst the murder, effectively sells the overlooked mayhem of everyday life. Obviously, the most overt such gesture in the film is its ribbing at the potential weaponization of any domesticated object, finding hidden, albeit brutal, purpose for objects through acts of mental reconsideration. Although favoring the path of most-violent resistance when it comes to reanimating everyday bric-a-brac with alternative imaginative potential, there’s an endearingly ambling sense of cribbing outlines from other (action) films and then scribbling them in haphazardly, spicing them up with unkempt anti-grace in the process. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: Thirst (1979)

960Exsanguinating Hammer Horror at their own game, Thirst’s stupendous opening teases arguably the greatest classical Gothic pastiche of the ‘70s. Set in a faded castle, the film immediately injects fresh blood (OK, I’ll stop) into the corpse of the once-young hooligans in Britain. Hammer, of course, was not immortal, unlike its money-maker Dracula (and seemingly their star Christopher Lee, who acted until the ripe old age of 95). By the out-of-control coaster that was the 1970s, the company had ironically aged into the very old fogey, Universal Horror, that Hammer had once upstaged. By the mid-70s, the heads of the company were desperately clawing at the ground around them to keep up pace with young upstarts like the American slashers, the Italian giallos, and a slew of murderous little Aussie numbers from down under. Horror’s claws (see, I didn’t say fangs) had sharpened in the intervening years, and it would require new blood (drum, drum, cymbal) like Thirst to re-ignite the fire. Continue reading

I Ranked Every Episode of Black Mirror

black-mirrorI’m hardly infatuated with this series, and as with any anthology, it misses as often as it hits. But that also means Charlie Booker’s witch’s brew of dyspeptic stomach-acid churn and quasi-futuristic chic does hit. More than once or twice, it even marshals something truly bracing, beyond the mere satirical sucker-punches most of its kindred television brethren manage. It’s uncanny glass-eye vision of society rapidly running out of sand in the hour glass often feels so pretentious and conceited as to be glimpsed through a monocle. But the episodes that do hit definitely nail the view-askew camera-obscura pleasures of classic Rod Serling, updated with the fangs of 21st century cynicism. Let us have a look-see. Continue reading

Midnight Screening: The Guest

21292662Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s sweaty cold splash of a film, The Guest, is a remarkable improvement on their previous collaboration, You’re Next, which was more of a conceited, self-hating concept in disguise as a sincere slasher. In comparison, The Guest is one or two fewer “explain the fear away” scenes away from a genuinely great, greasy slow-burn thriller that ignites for a climactic convulsion that is all rascally convulsive energy and Joy-Division-concert gloom. Whereas You’re Next was mostly just ugly and nihilistically neutral in its critical perspective (anti-everything), the pair of filmmakers has also ginned up an honest-to-god sense of tonal specificity this time around. In this case, The Guest is not only awash in reverie for that wonderful anxious-laconic tone of John Carpenter’s films (call it “strenuously relaxed”). But The Guest also secretes a variant of sensual sadness and even downcast sexuality straight out of Near Dark. Continue reading

Midnight Screenings: He Never Died and Late Phases

he_never_died_posterHe Never Died

Henry Rollins casts an almighty pall over He Never Died, a cold splash of a horror film that is more fried, irreverent noir than monster mash. In his music and public persona, the consummate and inimitable madman Rollins sours every heckle, hellhound howl, and vulture screech to an aria of menace and punk-certified nihilism. But, in He Never Died, his viciously, aggressively minimalist performance likens even a simple stare to a barely-sublimated volcano of enthralling agony brewing inside him. Wearing scars like an eldritch horror hiding in a grey hairdo and dad-core attire, he feels like the brutal punk troubadour and restless social freedom fighter beaten into ragged, deeply frayed middle-age. Continue reading

Midnight Screenings: We Are Still Here and Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

mv5bmjqwmzgzmjczov5bml5banbnxkftztgwndk2mtuxnte-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_We Are Still Here

A chilling sense of isolation and post-crisis contemplation hangs over Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here right from the wonderfully silent opening montage where middle-aged couple Anne and Paul (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig) acquaint themselves with their new abode. Even the finale where the satisfyingly restrained film arouses into a full-on horror erection does not quell the tragedy looming over the film, that of the death of Anne and Paul’s college-age son. Prompting their relocation from Boston to a rural New England home that feels like it’s been waiting in  repose for decades to torment and consume fresh blood, the couple find that they’re trapped in a throwback horror film. Which means, naturally and expectedly, the metaphoric or emotional ghosts of past tragedy bumping around in their minds are no match for the more literal kind ready to turn the house into a haunted house tour of the town’s past sins, with Anne and Paul as the guests of honor. Continue reading

Films for Class: Kustom Kar Kommandos

kukako2Kenneth Anger’s Kustom Kar Kommandos asks us to feel with our ears, to hear with our eyes, to taste with our bodies. Charged with a tickling eroticism and hyperbolically fetishistic aura, this lascivious work of high camp and low culture is infused with an alternately infatuated and critical attitude toward the throbbing iconography of American lore. Automobile autoeroticism at its most perverted, Anger plays around with blood(womb)red imagery to suggest the American garage as the birthing canal of masculine Americana’s dreams. More specifically, Anger locates the womb of American industry in the male heart, dressing a boy working on a car in vivid, lurid hues and equating the desire for procreation with symbiotic and parasitic ownership of metal material that bears somewhat striking implications for the notion of offspring as parental property. All of this, of course, is without even glancing at the implications of the title (or the title’s initials, more accurately, peerlessly stitching together homoerotic American masculine machinery as a sort of color-blind populist front or a vanguard for the white power movement, but that thread is hidden deeper in this film than in most of Anger’s more famous works, so we’ll leave it for someone else to find). Continue reading