Saturday, October 31, 2015

31 Days of Horror (October 2015)

Wednesday 30-Sep-15 at dusk
     Dr. Orloff's Invisible Monster (1970)
     Female Vampire (1975)

Thursday 1-Oct-15
     Severance (2006)
     The Tingler (1959)
     Curse of the Devil (1973)
     Breeders (1986)
     Breeders (1997)
     Maniac Cop (1988)

Friday 2-Oct-15
     Altered States (1980)
     The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)
     The Devil Rides Out (1968)
     Jug Face (2013)
     "Masters of Horror": Chocolate (2005)

Saturday 3-Oct-15
     Abby (1974)
     Ganja & Hess (1973)
     Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)
     Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)
     The Silent Scream (1979)
     "The Quatermass Experiment": E1 (1953)
     "The Quatermass Experiment": E2 (1953)

Sunday 4-Oct-15
     Whispering Corridors (1998)
     Whispering Corridors II: Memento Mori (1999)
     Alleluia (2014)
     Proxy (2013) 
     Alone in the Dark (1982)
     Mystics in Bali (1981)
     Belphegor, Chapter 1 (1927)

Monday 5-Oct-15
     The Ghoul (1933)
     The Vampire Bat (1933)
     Lipstick (1976)
     The Spider and the Fly (1918) 
     The Haunted Palace (1963)
     Blind Beast (1969)
     The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1919) 
     The Fifth (2007)
     A-Haunting We Will Go (1942)
     Razorback (1984)

Tuesday 6-Oct-15
     Strait-Jacket (1964)
     Alice's Spooky Adventure (1924)
     If A Body Meets A Body (1945)
     Howling II: ... Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)   
     The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
     Quatermass 2: Enemy from Space (1957)
     Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
     Cuadecuc, vampir (1971)
     Manborg (2011)

Wednesday 7-Oct-15
     Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
     Barracuda (1978)
     Thriller - A Cruel Picture (1973)
     SS Experiment Love Camp (1976)
     The Incredible Torture Show (1976)
     Spooks (1930) 
     Spooks (1931) 
     Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925) 

Thursday 8-Oct-15
     Aswang (1994)
     The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
     The Pit (1981)
     Clown (2014)
     Dahmer vs. Gacy (2010)
     The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012)
     Spook Spoofing (1928)
     The Headless Horseman (1922)

Friday 9-Oct-15
Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)
     The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)
     The Headless Horseman (1934)
     Der Student von Prag (1926)
     Mother Joan of the Angels (1961)
     Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
     Poltergeist (2015)
     Kiss of the Damned (2012)
     Genuine (1920)
Saturday 10-Oct-15
     Leprechaun (1993)
     Leprechaun 2 (1994)
     Leprechaun 3 (1995)
     Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)
     Leprechaun In the Hood (2000)
     Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003)
     Leprechaun: Origins (2014)
     Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

Sunday 11-Oct-15
     Santo contra los zombies (1962)
     Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
     Creep (2014)
     "Masters of Horror": Dance of the Dead (2005)
     "Masters of Horror": Sick Girl (2006)
     Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Monday 12-Oct-15
     The Dunwich Horror (1970)
     The Voices (2015)
     The Monster Walks (1932)
     Felix the Ghost Breaker (1923)
     In A Glass Cage (1986)
     Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (2011)
     Gingerdead Man Vs. Evil Bong (2013)
Tuesday 13-Oct-15  
     X (1963)
     The Man from Planet X (1951)
     Broom-Stick Bunny (1956)
     Skeleton Frolics (1937) 
     Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)
     From the Dark (2014)
     Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)
     Belphegor: Chapter 2 (1927)
     The Haunted Mouse (1941)
     The Archie Show: Groovy Ghosts (1968) 
     Hide and Shriek (1938)   

Wednesday 14-Oct-15
     What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
     Frankenstein's Army (2013)
     Satan Triumphant: Part 1 (1917)
     Satan Triumphant: Part 2 (1917)

     Spook Louder (1943)
     Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009)
     No Telling (1991)
     My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)
Thursday 15-Oct-15
     Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)
     Zombeavers (2014)
     Drive In Massacre (1977)
     Silver Bullets (2011)
     Kibakichi (2004)
     WolfCop (2014)

Friday 16-Oct-15
     Digging Up the Marrow (2014)
     Darkness Falls (2003)
     A Warning to the Curious (1972)
     Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
     Crimson Peak (2015)
     Goosebumps (2015)
     The Stalls of Barchester (1971)
     "Night Gallery": Make Me Laugh / Clean Kills and Other Trophies (1971)

Saturday 17-Oct-15
     Howl of the Devil (1987)
     Race With the Devil (1975)
     Here Comes the Devil (2012)
     Faust in Hell (1903)
     The Witches (1990)
     Tales of Halloween (2015)
     "Masters of Horror": Homecoming (2005)
     Homunculus, Part 4: Revenge of the Homunculus (1916)

Sunday 18-Oct-15
Lunacy (2005)
     The Cars that Ate Paris (1974)
     Frightmare (1974)
     La torre de los siete jorobados (1944)
     "Masters of Horror": Pick Me Up (2006)
     Homunculus, Part 2 (9 min. fragment) (1916)
     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1912)
Monday 19-Oct-15
     Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005)
     Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005)
     Bedfellows (2008) 
     Meat (2012) 
     Treevenge (2008)    
     More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead (2011)
     Visitor Q (2001)
     The Mad Doctor (1933)
     Trick or Treat (1952)
     Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)
Tuesday 20-Oct-15
     I Married A Monster From Outer Space (1958)
     Gothic (1986)
     "Dead Set": E2 (2008)
     "Dead Set": E3 (2008)

     Teddy: It's Gonna Be a Bear (2011)
     The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
     Unfriended (2015)
Wednesday 21-Oct-15
     Cursed (2005)
     The Horde (2009)
     Arrebato (1979)
     Naked Girl Killed in the Park (1972)
     "Masters of Horror": Haeckel's Tale (2006)
     Don't Open the Door! (1974)

Thursday 22-Oct-15
     Stake Land (2010)
     The Addiction (1995)
     "Dead Set": E4 (2008)
     "Dead Set": E5 (2008)

     Kuroneko (1968)
     Long Weekend (1978)
Friday 23-Oct-15
     Honeymoon (2014)
     Ghosts on the Loose (1943)
     The Curse of the Wraydons (1946)
     Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)
     "Masters of Horror": Deer Woman (2005)
     "Darknet": S1E2 (2013)
     The Hot Scots (1948)
     Hair-Raising Hare (1946)
     Lights Out (2013)

Saturday 24-Oct-15
     Granny (1999)
     Santo contra hombres infernales (1961)
     Awakening of the Beast (1970)
     Countess Dracula (1971)
     Q (1982)
     Vampyres (1974)
Sunday 25-Oct-15  
     Schloß Vogeloed (1921)
     The Bloody Judge (1970)
     The Cremator (1969)
     The Butterfly Murders (1979)
     Blood and Roses (1960)
     Baxter (1989)

Monday 26-Oct-15
     Queen of Earth (2015)
     The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
     Grimes - "Flesh Without Blood/Live in the Wild Dream" (2015)
     We Want Our Mummy (1939)
     The Gift (2015)
     Pay the Ghost (2015)
     Nekromantik (1987)
     Shivering Sherlocks (1948) 
     Spooky Hooky (1936)      
     "Fear the Walking Dead": So Close, Yet So Far (2015)

Tuesday 27-Oct-15  
     Outrage (1950)
     The Queen of Spades (1949)
     The Return of Daimajin (1966)
     The Wrath of Daimajin (1966)
     These Are the Damned (1963)

Wednesday 28-Oct-15
     Stage Fright (2014)
     Pilooski feat. Jarvis Cocker: "Completely Sun" (2015) 
     Krabat: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1978)
     The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
     Belphegor, Chapter 3 (1927)

Thursday 29-Oct-15
     The Lazarus Effect (2015)
     The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
     "Masters of Horror": Dreams in the Witch-House (2005)
     The Haunted House (1929) 
     Claws for Alarm (1954) 
     Scrappy's Ghost Story (1935)
     "Fear the Walking Dead": The Dog (2015)
     "Fear the Walking Dead": Not Fade Away (2015)
     "Fear the Walking Dead": Cobalt (2015)

Friday 30-Oct-15
     Pontypool (2008)
     Panna a netvor (1978)
     The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
     Angst (1983)
     Ghost Wanted (1940)
     Too Many Cooks (2014)
     Thriller (1983)
     Vampire Hunter D (1985)
     Critters 4 (1992)
     "Fear the Walking Dead": The Good Man (2015)
     Belphegor, Chapter 4 (1927)

Saturday 31-Oct-15     
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
     Psychomania (1973)
     Monsters Crash the Pajama Party (1965)
     100 Monsters (1968)
     Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
     The Monster Squad (1987)
     "Masters of Horror": The Fair-Haired Child (2006)
     WNUF Halloween Special (2013)

Click Here, Nimrods...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Landscape as Counter-Cultural Ideology in Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Valhalla Rising

Before there is character in Werner Herzog’s 1972 art-house film Aguirre, The Wrath of God or Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 metatextual adventure film Valhalla Rising—despite being eponymously-titled character studies—there is landscape. While this may not appear divergent to cinematic history’s tradition of the establishing shot, the diegetic worlds which precede man in these films act as authorial narrative commentary.

David Bordwell speaks of the subjective nature of the art-house film’s use of landscape saying, “surroundings may be construed as the projections of a character's mind. Simi­larly, the syuzhet may use psychology to justify the manipu­lation of time,” but Herzog and Refn invert these conventions: rather than using character psychology to expressively “shape spatial representation,” the weightiness of the formal representation of landscape in these films paints its characters as pawns to nature’s indifferent and immovable will (Narration in 209). 

Landscape, then, becomes a character through its formal representation. The vulgarity of nature is juxtaposed against the violence of civilized man (in the name of religion) as a philosophical, authoritarian response to the marriage of colonialization and mythology. True to art-house convention, each film ties historical colonialization to a social critique of its respective history of cultures prevailing over other cultures. Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Refn’s Valhalla Rising juxtapose unforgiving landscape against religious colonization as a social indictment against cultural violence and the Western inability for communal mythology.

Though handled as a metaphoric and mythological figure within Herzog’s film, Lope de Aguirre cannot be divided from his historic significance as Spanish evangelical conquistador: the product of an ideology which justified its abuse of the New World in the name of God.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mookie and the Right Thing

Spike Lee may "privilege morality over politics" as Douglas Kellner argues in "Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics in the Films of Spike Lee," but morality is far from black and white in Do The Right Thing. Neither morality, politics or racism is given an easy solution because, Lee would argue, there isn't one. Radio Raheem, in adopting the "love/hate" speech from The Night of the Hunter portrays a worldview that isn't exactly cut and dry (let's not forget Rev. Powell is one of the greatest cinematic villains of all time). He ends his speech saying, "if I love you, I love you. But if I hate you..." and never finishes the thought. Do the Right Thing may be a postmodern morality play, but Mookie is an everyman character: he doesn't know how to respond in this exchange with Radio Raheem saying only, "well, there you have it: love and hate," baffled by Radio Raheem's rant.

Radio Raheem seems to be purporting the MLK philosophy that love can conquer societal hate, and this thought it what Mookie has a difficult time reconciling after Radio Raheem's death. Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Famous, and I don't believe it has anything to do with protecting Sal's family. Mookie screams "HATE!" as he hurls that can and, with the act, completes the ellipses of Radio Raheem's statement. Kellner seems to criticize Lee for failing to spell how how "a system of exploitation oppresses Black," as if racism were that clear-cut. 
Mookie throws that trash can because of this system, but also because of how this system affects the individual. In the moment, Sal's Famous represented another white establishment entering the Black community for economic gain despite harboring racist attitudes toward the very community it exploits. No, Sal was not directly responsible for the death of Radio Raheem, but these actions all occurred through a thread of hate. Sal hating the Black community he served is only a step (through the narrative) of the police officers' disregard for Black lives. Mookie's destruction of property changes the conversation, trying to get the community to "wake up" (like the moral of School Daze) to the system of hate in their community. 

As we have seen recently in Ferguson and Baltimore, America still gets very hung up on the destruction of private property and neglectful of human lives. Mookie did the right thing, not in the act itself, but in forcing the conversation to be one about the larger community issues and systematic racism rather than eye-for-an-eye violence. It is not surprising to me that many people still don't understand why Mookie did what he did when we can turn on the news and, instead of hearing outrage over the death of Freddie Gray, presidential candidates instead Tweet "Blatant and rampant property destruction in Baltimore as the police stand by and watch. Should be a lesson on how NOT to handle riots. SAD!"

And it is sad in Do the Right Thing, too. Mookie and Sal's morning after is not a time of rejoicing, but they come to a sort of ambiguous understanding: Sal tries to play the martyr, bemoaning the store he built with his "bare hands." Mookie's response to what that means is, "it means you owe me $250." That is to say, private enterprise doesn't trump social responsibility. Sal has a debt to the Black community he serves.
Mookie wasn't deliberately directing attention away from Sal and his sons in order to protect them. When the conflict arises, Mookie is standing alongside Sal and his sons while the community looks at them with disdain. This is where Mookie trades sides in disassociation. This is partially self-preservation, but more important, it is Mookie's decision to take a very political stance.

Mookie seems like the kind of character who would let Sal hear about it if he was acting heroically in order to save Sal's family. When the two discuss the night's events the next morning, Sal accuses Mookie of ruining the place and Mookie says nothing like "you should be thanking me for saving your ass out there" and, furthermore, Sal doesn't interpret Mookie as doing anything other than escalating the situation. He blames Mookie for the window whose response is "motherfuck the window. Radio Raheem is dead." These few words say everything about Mookie's intentions. Mookie may not have participated in any violence directed at Sal and his sons (I don't think most of the characters in the film would have, I don't think many of the protestors in Baltimore today would have), but it's difficult to read his actions in the scene as deliberately deflecting attention away from Sal. 

Furthermore, it isn't clear Spike Lee is concerned with dichotomous morality in the situation. Love/hate are presented like Martin/Malcolm: neither has all the answers. Mookie's actions suggest that the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X are only ethereal until you're forced into a real-world situation. Their photos burning together inside Sal's Famous isn't so much to say that their philosophies are antiquated, but that we need to act rather than merely pontificate. The film challenges us to do, not buy a photo or subscribe to a given ideology. Our goal should be a common one and there isn't a prescribed road to attain it. By "doing a thing" in the name of fighting against a disenfranchising system and by opening social eyes to lives mattering more than property, Mookie did do the right thing. He acted.

Mookie didn't do the best "relative" or "situational" thing.  Yes, Do the Right Thing is a postmodern work and, undoubtedly, a nihilist fog surrounds the community in terms of dealing with systematic racism, but Lee lack of clear-cut answers doesn't suggest he thinks morality is relative. The title of the film is a call to action and not one to be taken ironically. Sal's Famous was a symbol, but also a real place. Radio Raheem was not a symbol, he was a human life. Doing the right thing is not a matter of ineffable philosophy (no matter the good intentions behind King or Malcolm X), it's a matter of taking action in the real world against injustice.

The film may not be overtly political (in the binary sense), but it's important to note that it ends with Mister Senor Love Daddy saying the city's Mayor will get to the bottom of the dispute because "the city of New York will not let property be destroyed by anyone." Radio Raheem is not in the news or the purview of the city. Black lives do not matter here. That's why the Love Daddy follows the news by encouraging people to register to vote. The system is broken, it disenfranchises Black, and, despite Kellner's essay, that is a very political message. It would not be nearly as powerful if Lee gave a trite explanation as to how to solve the nation's racist ills. Spike Lee doesn't provide political answers to solving the race problem because its solution is beyond the realm of politics and he doesn't see the end of racism occurring in his lifetime. I tend to agree on both accounts.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cinematography as Romantic Catalyst in Woody Allen's Manhattan

Of the many great eras of American film, the 1970s, are often considered a return to form—an almost filmic Renaissance. Here, films, directors and actors grew increasingly cynical and increasingly complex. By the 1970s, film had not only become an established medium, but an acceptable form of expression and art. American directors became post-French New Wave auteurs, not only creating a filmic style all their own, but skewing Hollywood convention in the beginning stages of postmodernism.

Relationships became increasingly complex in the cinematic realm, possibly as a mirror to what film auteurs saw as an increasing societal complexity. Here, seen most clearly in the work of Woody Allen, the camerawork becomes increasingly complicated as the character relationships become increasingly complicated.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Authorship as Art Cinema in Ingmar Bergman's Persona

There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartes was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed—master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the Cathedral of Chartes. 

—Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman

In this commentary on his own film, The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman would have us believe that film stands on its own as a work of art, as if somehow any pretension of "art cinema" can be washed away by the simple analogy between a concrete and abstract work of art—that any ideas of authorship are irrelevant because, somehow, the artist is not solely responsible for his work.

In a way, Bergman is right, as the auteur theory has allowed some filmmakers the right to produce painfully self-absorbed work with little social purview, and others to never move outside a rut of established convention. Instead, most art cinema exists in between these extremities; the director is obviously important to the films he produces, but in order for the work to have social value, it must not be limited to individual reflection. Perhaps in art cinema, more than any other genre, the films strike a balance between social value of new modes of filmmaking and the significance of an auteur's canon.

That isn't to say there are no establishments within art cinema. The model is more abstract than—and in many ways runs counter to—the modes of classical production, but there remain certain tendencies in art cinema which indicate, while these films may not be necessarily formulaic, they also do not exist on such an abstract, independent plane.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Friday, February 20, 2015

87th Academy Awards – Dream Ballot

Despite seeing nearly 300 features and shorts which I qualify as being 2014 releases, the Academy has much stricter rules.  Due to the evolving landscape of cinematic exhibition (and the proclivity of genre films being rushed to VOD) many of my favorite films of the year weren’t even given the chance at contending as a dark horse:  I have seen only 87 productions that Oscar™ deems eligible for the big award.  I don’t expect these percentages to get any better as it seems doubtful the Academy will seek to accommodate for films which circumvent the box office.

I was going to do my traditional “who will win”/”who should win” thing, but I don’t want my wife stealing all my picks in our pool so I’m doing something a little different.  Here are the nominations and wins if they were selected by me, but still holding to Academy rules (with one notable exception).  I saved this document on my hard-drive as “bizarro Oscars,” so please understand this format is weird, self-indulgent and that reader feedback is highly encouraged.

(For obvious reasons I have ignored the shorts categories.  I have no idea how a film becomes eligible in these categories and even less of an idea how they are effectively narrowed down such that an individual film makes an impact.  The short film has an incredible medium called the Internet, and the Academy’s failure to recognize this is a testament to their devotion to punctilio rather than innovative artistry.)

The envelopes, please:

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Western as Ethnographic Barometer in Gunsmoke and Deadwood

James Arness, the actor who portrays Marshal Matt Dillon in all twenty seasons of Gunsmoke (CBS: 1955-1975), had an interesting take on the ideologies behind the genre’s success. “A cowboy wasn’t tied down to one place or one woman,” he told TV Radio Mirror in 1964. “Nowadays people just don’t seem to have the intestinal fortitude to live the way they’d like. That’s why they tune in on Westerns, to get a breather from stifling conformity. They don’t want to see Matt Dillon—or any other lawman—come home and sweep the kitchen” (McBride 64).

While, perhaps, coy or playing to character, the assertion is odd given the nature of the television medium. The American Western, more than any genre, reflects the morals and cultural feelings of the era in which they were produced. However, unlike the film industry’s predication of rugged individualism dependent on the trope of cowboys riding off into the sunset, during the heyday of the television Western, heroes needed to be domesticated in recurring roles.

Arness’s ideologically ambiguous statement does any amount of cultural work. It presumes the television Western’s narrative is coded with rigid masculinity as well as insinuates its audience is (and its network would allow its program’s target to be) exclusively male. It ties (contrary to the ideological view of the very show he stars in) law and morality to non-conformity and self-government. It suggests the masculine ideal is too individualistic for community yet offers it through a social medium.

Though fragments of these assumptions share some truth with the early Western in print and film, the television Western largely subverts these assumptions through both their serial format and consumerist ideologies. Textual analysis of the first seasons of Gunsmoke and Deadwood (HBO: 2004-2006) will examine how the television Western, though employing traditional genre tropes and themes, does not perpetuate absolute ideologies but is elastic, reflecting the cultures and formats in which they were produced. As paranoid, commercial artifacts of the Eisenhower-era Cold War and the lingering shadow of post-9/11, these programs’ use of Western language exposes an ethnological rift as the culture shifts from the perspective of victor to that of victim in terms of foreign policy.

Click Here, Nimrods...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Thirty(one) Most Anticipated Films of 2015

Hey, have you guys heard they're making a new Star Wars movie?

Conventional wisdom dictates that all of the good, award-worthy movies come out at the end of the year while all of the billion-dollar popcorn movies run May-July.  Don't get me wrong, I'll consume all of that as well, but it is almost always the films that fall between the cracks that make the biggest impression on me.  Here's what I'm most looking forward to as we wave goodbye to the 2014 Oscar™ parade caboose.  For a much shorter read, check out a list of My Wife's Most Anticipated Films of 2015.

30. White God (Fehér Isten) (d. Kornél Mundruczó)
This Hungarian film opened to mixed reviews at Sundance despite winning the Prize Un Certain Regard at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.  It looks like a pretty hokey drama but a pretty sweet B-horror.  It'll be interesting to see how the two are reconciled.
U.S. limited release: 27 March 2015

29. Seymour: An Introduction (d. Ethan Hawke)
Another audience favorite (taking second runner-up for the People's Choice Award in Best Documentary at Toronto last fall), Ethan Hawke's examination of concert pianist Seymour Bernstein is hopefully the musical equivalent of Golub.

28. Mad Max: Fury Road (d. George Miller)
His first non-Happy Feet movie in almost two decades, George Miller's return to roots looks like the best kind of over-the-top, Drive Angry, grindhouse exploitation.
U.S. release: 15 May 2015

27. The Look of Silence (d. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Danish documentarian Joshua Oppenheimer has won huge accolades on the festival circuit with his sequel to 2012's The Act of Killing.  This is sure to be harrowing.
U.S. limited release: July 2015

26. Ned Rifle (d. Hal Hartley)
The third, final and-- if it lives up to the hype-- best chapter in Hal Hartley's extended Henry Fool trilogy casts Parker Posey alongside Aubrey Plaza.  The film is scheduled for screening at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and will hopefully get a limited U.S. release by the summer.

25. 3 and 1/2 Minutes (d. Marc Silver)
On the heels of #blacklivesmatter, Marc Silver's documentary debuts at the Sundance Film Festival and recounts how gun culture and racial bias culminated in the 2012 death of 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida.  Like last year's Citizenfour, this appears to be a timely, relevant and uncompromising historical document and, hopefully, work of art. 

24. Round Up (d. Sufjan Stevens)
This is a weird Sufjan Stevens "documentary" that appears to be an environmentalist art installment of a slow-motion rodeo.  Maybe this one is only for me, and who knows if I'll ever even be able to see it.
Release: It'll probably show up on Vimeo in like three years.

23. Killers (d. Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto)
This seems like a crazier (and probably more straight-genre) version of I Saw The Devil.  Brutal.
U.S. limited release: 23 January 2015

22. It Follows (d. David Robert Mitchell)
This looks like a really stylish genre piece in the vain of Starry Eyes and The Guest.  This is the kind of thing that seems fit for VOD nowadays, but I hope I can see this somewhere outside of FilmBar.
U.S. limited release: 27 March 2015

21. High-Rise (d. Ben Wheatley)
The prolific Ben Wheatley has given us Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England all since 2011.  I don't even know what this movie is about; I'll be there.

20. Mistress America (d. Noah Baumbach)
Baumbach has found his muse in Greta Gerwig in what looks like a combination of mumblecore and screwball comedy.  #mumblescrew
Release: I'd guess limited late-summer

19. The Witch (d. Robert Eggers)
Sundance darling that apparently sounds like exactly what it is.  You had me at "witch."

18. Spring (d. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead)
In their follow-up to the genre-bending Resolution, Benson and Moorhead return with a "romantic horror" which looks to buck convention while making me real uncomfortable.  This is a lot of what I loved about Under the Skin and Trouble Every Day, so I have high hopes for this one.
U.K. release: 17 April 2015; hopefully U.S. will follow suit

17. Nie yin niang (d. Hsiao-Hsien Hou) 
His first feature since 2007's Flight of the Red Balloon, marking his longest professional hiatus by some distance, this film-- which I know nothing about (including pronunciation)-- is on here by reputation alone.  It's currently listed on IMDb as in post-production and sounds like the kind of thing that will debut at Cannes and half of the audience won't be into it.  

16. The Sea of Trees (d. Gus Van Sant)
I'm hoping this is Van Sant's return to form (like "Death trilogy" form, not self-congratulatory crowd-pleasing form) in teaming with Matthew McConaughey and Naomi Watts in something that sounds an awful lot like Gerry.  Gerry with trees.

15. Z for Zachariah (d. Craig Zobel) 
I can't say enough good things about the under-recognized Compliance, but where Zobel turned huge performances from a non-recognizable ensemble cast, his latest currently credits only Margot Robbie, Chris Pine and Chiwetel Ejiofor who are, possibly, the last known survivors on earth.  This title may compete on my short list of "favorite Z-titled films" alongside Zelig, Zero for Conduct, Zero Dark Thirty and a few Zatoichi pictures.
Danish release: 16 April 2015.  Thanks, IMDb.

14. The Duke of Burgundy (d. Peter Strickland)
Technically, this thing is already out.  From the guy who brought us Berberian Sound Studio and the Björk: Biophilia Live concert film, the unofficial prequel to Anchorman.  
U.S. limited release and VOD: 23 January 2015

13. Kamakura Diary (Umimachi Diary) (d. Hirokazu Koreeda)
A domestic drama adapted from the manga of the same name, this thing seems to be right up the alley of Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda (Still Life, Nobody Knows).  I wouldn't be surprised if this thing debuts at Cannes as it's set to open in Japan a month later.
Japanese release: 13 June 2015 

12. Love in Khon Kaen (d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul) 
From Thai director Weeransethakul's website, Love in Khon Kaen "tells of a lonesome middle-age housewife who tends a soldier with sleeping sickness and falls into a hallucination that triggers strange dreams, phantoms, and romance." Sounds par for the course for the guy that brought us Uncle Boonmee.

11. The Lobster (d. Yorgos Lanthimos)
From the crazy Greek who brought us Dogtooth, here's hoping that The Lobster follows the recent European arthouse tradition-- alongside Attenberg and Borgman-- of confounding fever dream.
U.S. limited release: March 2015

10. From the Dark (d. Conor McMahon)
Irish creature-feature which casts only two actors.  From the director of Stitches.

9. Crimson Peak (d. Guillermo del Toro)
"But basically what it is is a really, really, almost classical gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it's a proper R rating. And it's adult."
— Guillermo del Toro
So, basically, Pan's Labyrinth with Jessica Chastain?  This could skyrocket close to #2 on my list, but my excitement is tempered by my disinterest in returning to Pacific Rim
U.S. release: 16 October 2015

8. Green Room (d. Jeremy Saulnier)
I'm looking for Saulnier to catapult to the forefront of American directors (genre or otherwise) after the exceptional Murder Party and Blue Ruin with this killer tagline: "A young punk rock band find themselves trapped in a secluded venue after stumbling upon a horrific act of violence."  Starring Imogen Poots and featuring Patrick Stewart as a Neo-Nazi. 

7. Darkness by Day (El día trajo la oscuridad) (d. Martín De Salvo)
I've been excited about this movie since I first heard of its existence and it still has no U.S. distribution.  I hope someone picks this up before it hits Latin American torrents.

6. Yeezus: The Film (d. Hype Williams)
No one knows anything about this movie, including if it even exists.  Kanye released a teaser trailer last February.  Expect me to be camping out if this gets a theatrical release.

5. Tomorrowland (d. Brad Bird)
The next in the proud tradition of theme-park related films, Brad Bird will again play King Midas to something that would sound like a dumpster fire in anyone else's hands.
U.S. release: 22 May 2015

4. '71 (d. Yann Demange)
Full disclosure:  I've seen this one and it rules.  I don't expect this to play well this side of the Atlantic, but it should further flex Jack O'Connell as an A-list actor where his last few American features let him down.
U.S. release: 27 February 2015

3. The Hateful Eight (d. Quentin Tarantino)
Tarantino continues his foray into historiological metafiction through redemptive violence and blissful cinematic commentary.  Inglourious Basterds was no mere Dirty Dozen knock-off, Django Unchained re-Americanized the essence of the spaghetti Western, and we have every reason to believe The Hateful Eight will play genre in a way that pays healthy respect to, but completely transcend expectation and source material of, its Magnificent Seven reference.  I mean, look at that poster.
U.S. release: 13 November 2015

2. Midnight Special (d. Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols may very well be the next true American auteur.  Midnight Special seems to follow familiar themes in Take Shelter and Mud of the disillusionment of childlike wonder and the seams where the fabric of paternal leadership begins to tear.
U.S. release: 25 November 2015

1. Knight of Cups (d. Terrence Malick) / Untitled Terrence Malick Project (d. Terrence Malick)
I'm cheating by ending this list with a twofer, but it is an unprecedentedly exciting place in cinema where the short distance between 2011 and 2015 can produce as many Terrence Malick films as the previous 39 years.

What do I know about Knight of Cups?  Very little.  I don't even understand what the title possibly refers to, and I'll keep it this way.  Remember when The Tree of Life was coming out and people were touting how it took Malick a long time to balance the harsh representation of fatherhood with the developing technology which made the dinosaurs look legitimate?  There was no way to wrap my mind around a statement like that without actually seeing it, and my visceral and emotional connection was heightened by this ignorance.  I know Christian Bale is in it.  I know Natalie Portman is in it.  I know Imogen Poots, Cate Blanchett and Nick Offerman are in it.   I know '70s posterboy Ryan O'Neal adds Terrence Malick to his already crowded résumé of New Hollywood directors he's worked with (including Stanley Kubrick, Peter Bogdanovich, Blake Edwards, Norman Mailer, Richard Attenborough).  But I'm not convinced any of them could even tell us what it is about at this point.

I know even less about the second feature.  Including its title.  I know it has a slightly improved cast (if that can be fathomed) with a few carryovers and I know the two films were shot, more or less, concurrently. Maybe Untitled will come out in 2015?  If not, the recent trove of Malick will hold me over for a lifetime.

I also know To The Wonder is my favorite film of 2013, and I know The Tree of Life is my favorite film of my lifetime.  That's all I need to know.  By all means, watch the trailer.  But I haven't.

U.S. release: 11 December 2015 (Knight of Cups)

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Friday, January 9, 2015

The 40 Best Films of 2014

What does the cultural barometer tell us about ourselves in 2014?  I think our films tell us that we are resilient.  Look at Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken: these films aren’t Jessica Chastain crying in the back of a military transport, they’re about heroes doing heroic, American things.  Funny, then, that the latter is a story of forgiveness that never gets to the forgiving, and the former is a tale of war-caused PTSD which ends before its real-life protagonist’s life is cut short by a veteran with PTSD.  They’re jingoistic smoke and mirrors with the guts to only look at the smoke.

A recurring theme in this year’s films is the uncanny valley: doppelgangers abound, enemies disguised as ourselves, emasculation of and prescribed heroes and, in the case of Doc Sportello, learning he couldn’t see the mirrors for the smoke.  We need the movies not for, as Detective Rustin Cohle says, the “transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel,” but to see what is ugly about ourselves and why this demands we approach others with grace.  This bumper crop projects our lives back upon us, reminding that sometimes what is hardest to watch is the most necessary.  Our resilience was never called into question, only its cost.

With no intention of being contrarian, my list avoids the much fawned-over Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue or Ignorance) and I find much of their praise misguided herd mentality.  The best of the three, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a hell of a gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless and one that would be better served with a more cohesive through line and character depth.  Writer Guild and ACE editing nominations belittle much of the work on my list which didn’t have the luxury of twelve years.

I used to be an unabashed, card-carrying member of the Cult of Wes Anderson and still hold The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited in my top 100 films of all time.  Crushing to me is that, since the naval-gazing increased with his last two features, he has finally achieved universal acclaim.  His work has become a parody of itself and leaves me hollow where it was once edifying.  The notes are pristine, but they ring untrue.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is ramshackle, fun and a throwback to classic screwball comedy—kind of in the same way Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight is a throwback to classic romantic comedy.  One is seen as a shallow disappointment, one has bloggers lobbying behind it for Best Picture nominations.  Both lie somewhere in the middle.

Birdman is another beast altogether.  Perhaps the most critic-proof of the three, the film attempts to both vilify Hollywood’s franchise inclination (a lazy critic’s m.o.) and eat its cake too, lecturing a one-dimensional critic.  Embarrassing, then, that Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Godzilla are all better and more human films.  The indictment on critical herd mentality isn’t unfair, only misplaced: the critic’s job is to trace culture’s de Broglie-Bohm theory.  To express what is objective, in our souls, about the arts.  To expose pretention and put words to the poetic ineffable.  Birdman, as it turns out, is indeed quite effable.  Eff Birdman.

The punchline is all of this is likely moot as far as the Academy is concerned, for The Imitation Game certainly looks most like a Best Picture™.  Kudos for being honest enough among the contenders to eponymously name its feign at art.

I initially intended to wait to compose my list until A Most Violent Year grew legs into the Phoenix suburbs.  As it turns out, that won’t be until at least January 23.  It is with a heavy heart that the film joins a short list of contenders which I found no way to see in 2014: A Girls Walks Home Alone At Night, National Gallery, Citizenfour, The World of Kanako, Stray Dogs, Mommy and three films which have yet to find distributors: Darkness by Day, The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga and Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait.  I hope this working list is usurped by a few of these in the year to come.  Conversely, it was hard to bite my tongue and leave Yann Demange’s ’71 off the list as it is due for U.S. distribution in February.  Even with spots reserved for the possibility of two Terrence Malicks, it’s assured a top ten finish in 2015.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best Short Films of 2014

Before I wrap my list of favorite films of the year, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite short films from 2014.  Academy Award nominations will frustrate completists in a couple of weeks and I feel safe in my prediction that, not only will none of these compete for a prize, their online availability proves that (sorry, Academy) the Internet is the most viable medium for the format.

10. Sean (d. Ryan Reichenfeld)

SEAN from Ryan Reichenfeld on Vimeo.

Ryan Reichenfeld of Justin Timberlake music video fame has created an oddly philosophical everyman piece about a teenage Jack In The Box employee from Lake Havasu, Arizona: a naive nihilist in the land of Spring Breakers.

9. Breathe (d. Laron Murray)

Eric Garner BREATHE from Laron Murray on Vimeo.

Turning a dying man's pleas into a spoken word call to justice and solidarity, the brevity of Laron Murray's Breathe is harrowingly self-referential.

8. Are You Okay (d. Bret Easton Ellis)

Following the ever-growing trend of blurring the line between short film and music video, Bret Easton Ellis's cut of Dum Dum Girls' "Are You Okay" certainly benefits from one of the finest dream-pop songs of the year and from Dee Dee Penny's long-established persona of grindhouse feminism.  (see also Sky Ferreira's "I Blame Myself" with similar bubblegum-goth, L.A. subversion in another of the best music videos of 2014).

7. Verbatim: What Is A Photocopier? (d. Brett Weiner)

Brett Weiner's New York Times Op-Doc is a word-for-word historical recreation highlighting the unintentional humor of legal deposition.

6. Kid Danny (d. Andrew Cohn)

ESPN's best "30 for 30" short film of the year catches up with Danny Almonte who-- amidst a teenage Miguel Tejada scandal--  threw a perfect game in the 2001 Little League World Series.  Typical of the best ESPN films, it is both sappy and redemptive in the best way.

I've fought with ESPN's video player for the whole year, so it is of no surprise that their embed feature doesn't work now.  The film can be viewed here.

5. Jack London's 'A Piece of Steak' (d. Travis Mills)

Jack London's A Piece of Steak - Clip - 52 Films in 52 Weeks from Running Wild Films on Vimeo.

The pinnacle of Travis Mills's "52 Films in 52 Weeks" project (though closely followed by Ring Lardner's 'Harmony'), the adaptation of Jack London's 'A Piece of Steak' (quotations added to avoid an awkward insult) is a one-man highlight reel put on by Jonathan Medina.

As the only film on the list not currently available online (I suspect Mills is curbing his proliferation in preparation for his upcoming "Lose Yourself"-moment in his next film, Durant's Never Closes), keep an eye out as this will be available again at some point in the year.

4. The Dream (d. Errol Morris)

The best of Errol Morris's trio of Op-Doc "Peace Films," the biographical documentary of Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee avoids schmaltz and approaches profundity.

3. Gan-Gan (d. Gemma Green-Hope)

Gan-Gan from Gemma Green-Hope on Vimeo.

The heir to Joseph Cornell.  A Scott Stark contemporary without a shred of pretension.

2. The Time-Eaters (d. Harry Dodge)

The Time Eaters—Harry Dodge from Futurepoem on Vimeo.

A Kierkegaardian Before Sunrise re: hydrophilic chemistry, the cremasteric reflex and pie crusts.

1. Too Many Cooks (d. Chris "Casper" Kelly)

I initially wrote this off as a clever (and musically brilliant) meta riff until it subverted my expectations so many times I could no longer keep track.  There's a serial killer (the only uncredited character) who stands in for us as we demand these characters live out this hell in a piece that finds commonality between "Roseanne" and Lars von Trier's The Kingdom.  It's a condensed, Internet-era marriage of Chris Elliott's "Action Family" and T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland which manages the impossible: it is sincere in its irony.

It also understands itself to its core: an Adult Swim "infomercial" that I only wish I discovered while awaking from a hangover, on the couch, at 4:30 A.M.  I want to meet the person who unknowingly walked into that nightmare.  I Am A Strange Loop, indeed.  (See also their follow up-- and cousin-- Unedited Footage of a Bear).

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