Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

The 100 Greatest Movies of the Nineties

July 13, 2017

49. Heavenly Creatures (1994) 

Before Peter Jackson took us all to Middle-earth, he brought moviegoers to the mad world of two troubled teenagers – a fictional universe every bit as engrossing as J.R.R. Tolkien’s, but far more romantic and lethal. Based on a true-crime story, the film depicts pre-stardom Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as Pauline Parker and Juliet Hume, two New Zealand teenagers whose BFF-ship blossoms first into love, then madness and ultimately murder. Jackson’s kinetic camera captures the rapturous swirl of teenage dreams before plunging us into its brutal, bloody endpoint. It’s a beautiful dark twisted fantasy. STC

I wrote about Natural Born Killers, Heavenly Creatures, and The Blair Witch Project for Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Movies of the ’90s. My editor David Fear assembled an absolute murderers’ row of writers for this thing — it’s a real treat.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 64!

June 30, 2017

Children of Men (A Patreon Production)

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour goes dystopian this month! By the special request of our Patreon supporter Jason, who earned the right to choose a topic for the podcast by subscribing at the $50 level, Sean & Stefan are taking a deep dive into the world of Children of Men, director Alfonso Cuarón’s gripping 2006 political science-fiction film. Starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore and set in a near future where the world has been rocked by an infertility epidemic that has completely ended all childbirths for 18 years and counting, the movie is striking both for its technical virtuosity, particularly during its white-knuckle action sequences, and its emphasis on very human cruelty and empathy. How does its technical prowess affect its message? Where does the storytelling and imagery succeed, and where does it falter? What does its bleak yet ultimately optimistic vision of the future portend for our own grim present? We’ll do our best to answer those questions. Needless to say, spoilers abound!

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Additional links:

Abraham Riesman’s article on the making of the film for Vulture.

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

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Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

The 20 Most Essential Jonathan Demme Movies

May 17, 2017

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 

Demme’s ticket to horror-movie immortality, and a well-deserved one at that. This iconic thriller about an FBI agent (Jodie Foster, never better) using a serial killer to catch a serial killer made a superstar out of Anthony Hopkins; compare the actor’s work here to his subsequent turns as the charismatic, cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter and you can see the director’s sense of less-is-more restraint paying dividends. The film also broke a bloody glass ceiling at the Oscars, too, becoming the only horror movie to date to win Best Picture. But it’s the thoughtful way in which Demme shot the world that our heroine Clarice Starling has to navigate – so many male faces, looming huge in the frame and staring right into her (and our) eyes – that remains Silence’s most pointed commentary on predators and patriarchy. STC

I forgot to link to this when it went up, but Rolling Stone put together a lovely tribute to the work of the late director Jonathan Demme, and I was honored to contribute a few words on The Silence of the Lambs, a great film.

The 50 Best ‘Star Wars’ Characters of All Time

May 4, 2017

7. Rey

Complaints that The Force Awakens‘ desert-dwelling heroine is just too good at everything she does – pilot, mechanic, Force-wielder, lightsaber duelist, escape artist – ignore two important factors. First, her flashbacks indicate that there’s much more to her mysterious past than meets the eye, and we wouldn’t be surprised if long-buried memories of Jedi training were a part of it. Second, breakout star Daisy Ridley is an absolute joy to watch in the role, a magnetic screen presence who nails moments of mirth and melodrama alike. (The same could be said for her franchise warrior-sister Jyn Erso, who feels as if she’s been cut from the same cloth as Rey.) If she’s the Star Wars Universe’s new chosen one, the good folks at Lucasfilm have chosen wisely. STC

I added a few new entries to Rolling Stone’s list of the best Star Wars characters of all time.

‘The Godfather’ Was Really the First Great Prestige TV Show

April 24, 2017

Not to get all Beavis and Butt-head about it, but bad shows suck because, well, they suck, not because they are insufficiently episodic in structure. This is why calls from the critical community, leading many of the fan conversations on these shows, to eschew unified, serialized storytelling in favor of tight arcs and standalone episodes feel like a misdiagnosis. For one thing, they fail to consider that noticeably self-contained installments of series like Game of Thrones and Girls are as memorable as they are precisely because those shows don’t usually work that way.

These claims fall into the same trap of cinematically minded showrunners who insist that “it’s not TV” by agreeing with them, setting up a false dichotomy between what constitutes the proper use of the medium and what doesn’t. In its maturity, television has proven capable of countless things: TV dramas alone can be as densely serialized as The Wire Season 4, as memorably episodic as Mad Men Season 5, as sweeping as Fargo Season 2, and as sensation-driven as Empire Season 1. Sometimes they can be several things at once; Black Mirror, like its groundbreaking antecedent The Twilight Zone, tells a different story with a different set of characters every single episode, making it simultaneously one of the most movie-like and most episodic shows on television. Saying any of these series is closer or farther away from The One True Way to Make TV obscures the fact that there’s no such thing.

In fact, this array of options, this wide-open landscape of different structures and tones and techniques, is the truest indicator that “prestige TV” is not a contradiction in terms. Problems with the execution aside — and problems with the execution is all they really are — television can do whatever you want it to do at this point, and declaring one approach or the other superior is a procrustean blunder — like arguing The Godfather is less great a film because you can break it down like a television series, if you’re feeling particularly perverse (ahem). If that means some showrunners get to declare their series a double-digit-hour movie, so be it. The proof will be in the pudding, or the cannoli. You can have it both ways. Why wouldn’t you want to try?

What was your favorite episode of The Godfather? “Khartoum”? “The Thunderbolt”? The pilot, “I Believe in America”? I presented a modest proposal about a cinematic classic in order to talk about where all the “no, your TV show isn’t a 73-hour movie” structuralist reprimanding gets us for Thrillist.

They Are ‘Legion’: Tracking the Superhero Show’s Key Horror References

March 30, 2017

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While Lynch gets the “Legion”-related headlines, another director named David seems to have left an even deeper mark. That would be David Cronenberg, who made a name for himself with a series of body-horror films that depicted the disturbing interplay between mind and matter, often with a conspiratorial backdrop of sinister secret agencies or killer corporations out to harness psychic power for their own ends.

“Legion” paints in shades of Cronenberg’s “Videodrome,” with its pulsating inanimate objects; “Shivers,” with its parasite imagery; “The Brood,” with its story of a powerful telepath under the care of a manipulative therapist (played by Oliver Reed, who may have lent both his name and his machismo to the guru figure Oliver Bird); and most especially “Scanners,” with its all-out war between rival psychic factions and a protagonist who’s telepathically tormented by the voices in his head. (“Scanners” also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from a very familiar-looking deep sea diver suit).

I wrote about David Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Legion’s other major horror influences for the New York Times. I have my beefs with Legion, but it’s porting its horror references into a whole different genre, as opposed to Stranger Things, which is just reheating them in the microwave and trying to pass of leftovers as a fresh-cooked dish.

This Valentine’s Day, Watch ‘The Love Witch’

February 14, 2017

But the most romantic thing about The Love Witch is the existence of the film itself. To call a work of art “a labor of love” is to imply a sort of jejune passion, an amateur’s enthusiasm, but nothing could be further from the case here. Taking the concept of the auteur to a whole new level, Anna Biller not only wrote, edited, scored, produced, and directed this movie — she also served as the production designer, the set decorator, the art director, and the costume designer. She personally built, knit, sewed, collected, or otherwise provided many of the film’s key props, from the witches’ altar to the characters’ jewelry to a rug that took her months to make. If the lengthy and thoughtful essays and interviews on her blog are any indication, she also served as the movie’s on-set philosopher. Short of starring in the movie herself, there’s no way The Love Witch could be more Anna Biller’s vision.

The result is unmistakably familiar. To watch The Love Witch is to enter the headspace and heartspace of another human being as surely as falling in love.

This becomes crystal clear barely five minutes into the film. After an opening driving sequence that’s a loving homage to similar scenes in Hitchock’s Psycho and The Birds, we enter the Billerverse in earnest — a world where every detail is deliberate and delightful. Tucking her cherry-red cigarette case into her cherry-red purse, Elaine emerges from her cherry-red car in her cherry-red dress, then takes her cherry-red suitcase out of the cherry-red trunk to enter an apartment full of occult artwork so colorful it’d make a Crayola 64-pack blush. Next, we’re off to a sumptuously appointed tea room in which every one of the all-female clientele is clad in cotton-candy pink; the matching floral-patterned tea set, hand selected by Biller herself, looks like something made of marzipan in the sugar-spun home of a fairy-tale cannibal witch.

By the time I hit this point in the movie, I was laughing out loud in sheer joyful admiration. Whether working in true independent form like Biller or blessed with the carte blanche freedom afforded to established and acclaimed names like Scorsese, Anderson, Tarantino, or Coen, few filmmakers have anything close to this level of confidence in their own taste and vision. Pulling this off for a single scene would be reason to celebrate. Constructing an entire film from a single intelligent, idiosyncratic worldview is close to a miracle. And from its first scene to its last, from the font choice in its opening titles to the music over the closing credits, that kind of miracle is exactly what The Love Witch delivers. Watch it with some witch you love.

Love Witch and chill: I wrote about what makes The Love Witch the perfect Valentine’s Day movie for Vulture.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 58!

January 27, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Podcast

Rebellions are built on hope, and this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour is built on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story! Stefan and Sean continue their exploration of that galaxy far, far away with a look at Gareth Edwards’s stand-alone contribution to the Star Wars cinematic universe. How does it stack up against The Force Awakens? What’s the impact of its countless cameos and Easter eggs on the one hand and its unprecedented-for-the-franchise story structure on the other? How do we feel about Edwards’s handling of action, character, setting, performance, and the all important “toyetic” factor? Hit play and find out!

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And remember, if you like what you hear, subscribe to our Patreon to hear more of it via our subscriber-exclusive Boiled Leather Audio Moment mini-podcast!

Our BLAH episode on the prequel trilogy.

Our BLAH episode on The Force Awakens.

Sean’s article comparing Rogue One to TFA for Rolling Stone.

Sean’s list of the 57 Greatest Star Wars moments for Vulture.

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

Artcrime: What “Beware the Slenderman” Says About Blaming Artists for Violence

January 25, 2017

There is no artist behind Slender Man, not in the panoptic, memetic form in which Morgan and Anissa encountered him. Slender Man’s “author” is the internet and the army of artists and writers and filmmakers and game designers who inhabit it. Only the accident of history, in which the original posts can be tracked down, enables us to put names to the faceless being at all. A few decades ago Slender Man would just be Bloody Mary or the killer with a hook for a hand who disrupts teenagers necking in their cars. A few centuries ago and he’d be the vampire a town feared enough to dig up graves and behead the corpses inside, or the witch who lures wayward children to their doom. With no artist in play, it becomes clear how fallacious it is to pin the blame on artists for the actions of disturbed individuals who consumed their art at all.

This is not to say art never affects society or inspires terrible things. When Jared Kushner crows about targeting ads for his odious father-in-law Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to viewers of The Walking Dead because of their concerns about immigration, he’s recognizing the fascist ideology that underlies both the show and the current administration. But art with an ideological vector connects the reader or viewer to a cohesive worldview, which, right or wrong, helps explain society and prescribe remedies for its ills. Action and reaction are to be expected.

That’s different from a movie about a pair of abused kids who become mass murderers and media superstars, or music by a glam-influenced Satanist, or creepy internet posts about a demon with no face. These merely provide monsters who embody fears and desires, not a political program. Those monsters will always exist in one form or another, and disturbed kids like Morgan and Anissa will always find them and use them as the mold into which they pour their crumbling sanity or mounting bloodlust. In blaming the art or the artist, we commit the exact same error, looking for a boogeyman to help us explain the inexplicable. We’re finding our own Slender Man to serve.

I wrote about the documentary Beware the Slenderman and when we should and shouldn’t hold artists to account for crimes inspired by their art for the New York Observer.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 57!

December 31, 2016

A Long Time Ago: The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

This New Year’s Eve, ring in the coming year the old-fashioned way: Listen to Sean and Stefan talk about George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy for 80 minutes! For the final BLAH of 2016, we’re tackling one of our most frequently requested topics and going long on Episodes I, II, and III of the blockbuster franchise: 1999’s The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. An all but universally accepted punching bag for much of the decade since it brought the curtain down on the early adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker et al, the prequel trilogy has seen something of a change of critical fortune at since dawn of the Disney era and its crowd-pleasing kick-off The Force Awakens. With another prequel, Rogue One, now in theaters (though Stefan hasn’t seen it, so shhhhh no spoilers), we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss Lucas’s uneven but ambitious auteurist prequel saga in depth, movie by movie. Are they the Fall of the Republic–level disasters they’re made out to be, or do they have an artistic Force worth reckoning with? Listen in and find out!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 57

PLUS! With this episode of BLAH, our 14th this year, we’re pleased to announce the start of a new series of subscriber-only mini-episodes beginning this January! For the low low price of a monthly $1 contribution to the Boiled Leather Audio Hour Patreon, you’ll receive exclusive monthly podcasts focused squarely on A Song of Ice and Fire (with a bit of Game of Thrones mixed in, we suspect, but mostly the books) and derived from listener questions. It’s our way of saying thank you to those of you who’ve subscribed this year and thus made recording these so much easier for us—and, we hope, a tempting offer for those of you who haven’t yet taken the plunge. Visit our Patreon page, pitch in, and get in on the ground floor! And now back to your regularly scheduled BLAH. Happy Holidays!

Additional links:

Jesse Hassenger’s essay on the prequels for the AV Club.

Roderick Heath’s essay on the prequels for Ferdy on Films.

Sean’s list of the 57 Greatest Star Wars Moments for Vulture (warning: Rogue One spoilers).

Sean’s list of Carrie Fisher’s 10 Greatest ‘Star Wars’ Moments for Rolling Stone (warning: Rogue One spoilers).

Our BLAH episode on The Force Awakens.

Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.

Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).

Our iTunes page.

Mirror.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

Carrie Fisher’s 10 Greatest ‘Star Wars’ Moments

December 27, 2016

“This is our most desperate hour.” If you have to sum up the mood of the moment, look no further than the words of Princess Leia herself. In her most famous performance – one in which she’d anchor the first three films in the blockbuster Star Wars series, than reprise to rapturous acclaim decades later in The Force Awakens Carrie Fisher embodied hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Whether she was playing it cool in one of Leia’s more regal moments, slinging insults and shooting stormtroopers as a Rebel leader or chronicling her real-life battles with addiction and mental illness in her fearlessly funny writing, Fisher was one of film’s great heroines, on screen and off. The 10 moments below are our tribute to the great woman’s greatest creation. We loved her; she knew.

I wrote about the best stuff Carrie Fisher did as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies for Rolling Stone.

On Christmas, before I found out about George Michael’s death and before Carrie Fisher died, I was already telling my cousins about the week a few years ago when The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini, muckraking young journalist Michael Hastings, and Fantagraphics co-founder Kim Thompson all died; 2016, I said, was that week stretched out over a year. And it wasn’t even done with us yet.

Why ‘Rogue One’ Is a Better ‘Star Wars’ Movie Than ‘The Force Awakens’

December 20, 2016

Think back to Force‘s major settings and story beats. The three planets on which the bulk of the action take place – Jakku, Takodana and Starkiller Base – evoke the desert, forest, and arctic landscapes of the original trilogy’s Tattooine, Endor and Hoth, respectively. The story centers on a young adult stranded in a sandy world, awakening to their Force-dictated potential in the face of opposition from a black-masked wielder of the Dark Side, with Rey and Kylo Ren taking the place of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Tentacled menaces threaten our heroes, with Han Solo’s captured Rathtars standing in for A New Hope‘s dianoga and Return of the Jedi‘s Sarlacc. Dangerous dogfights and narrow escapes dominate the action sequences, as they did in The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope. Good guys attempt to blow up a superweapon by finding its secret weakness, a plot point so familiar that Solo himself cracks a joke about it. The hugely entertaining performances of relative newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, best-of-their-generation contenders Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver, and even lions-in-winter Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher may disguise it, but in artistic terms, this is a very conservative film.

By contrast, Rogue One looks like an alien life form. No snow. No forest. Some sand, but mostly as the surroundings for Jedha, as teeming a city as the series has shown us since the prequels’ skyscraping metropolis of Coruscant. No edge-of-your-seat dogfights and “yahoo!” escape sequences – the only thing these characters escape is death, and then only briefly. There’s a tentacled monster, but it’s used as a method of “enhanced interrogation” rather than presented as an apex predator. The goal of the final fleet-on-fleet battle isn’t to destroy a superweapon, but simply to run interference so the method to destroy said superweapon can be smuggled out of storage and preserved until the time comes. Most importantly, none of the major new characters – whether they are one with the Force or in the service of its Dark Side – are men and women of destiny … because none of them, literally none of them, survive the end of the film. As far as survival and celebration are concerned, this thing makes Empire look like Jedi. It’s doing something no other Star Wars film has ever done: depicting the life and death of everyone who sacrificed so the Skywalkers, their friends and their foes could decide the fate of the galaxy.

Rogue One crammed in so much Star Wars fanservice—how did it still feel fresher than The Force Awakens? I tried to answer this question for Rolling Stone. I note in the piece that this is not to argue Rogue One is necessarily a successful film, just that it’s its own film in a way The Force Awakens isn’t.

The *57* Greatest Star Wars Moments, Ranked

December 20, 2016

57. Dude, where’s my theme music? (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … nothing! Just a wide-vista shot of an unknown planet’s rim, a slightly off-brand variant of the first few notes of John Williams’s classic score by Lost composer Michael Giacchino, the words “ROGUE ONE,” and that’s it. Disney honchos had already indicated that director Gareth Edwards’s stand-alone “Star Wars Story” would jettison the traditional opening sequence as a way to set it apart from films set within the main saga’s trilogy framework, but hearing about it and witnessing it firsthand are two different things. After a lifetime of watching Star Wars movies, what didn’t happen in Rogue One’s opening seconds was nearly as striking as anything that did happen afteward.

I gave my list of the Greatest Star Wars Moments for Vulture a post–Rogue One update. Check it out!

The 50 Greatest Star Wars Moments, Ranked

December 16, 2016

4. The Yub-Nub Song (Episode VI: Return of the Jedi)
Accept no substitutions: The original Ewok song of celebration that ends the first trilogy is the only Ewok song that matters. For reasons beyond comprehension, George Lucas and John Williams replaced this charming, percussive, gibberish-based hoedown with corny pan-flute New Age–isms when Lucas re-released the trilogy decades later. But no viewing of Jedi in my house was complete without dancing around the living room to those gleeful “yub-nubs,” the xylophone made of captured Imperial helmets, and that final choral sweep into the closing theme. For me, this was Star Wars.

With Rogue One hitting theaters, I ranked the 50 greatest moments in first seven Star Wars films for Vulture. I had a lot of fun, boy oh boy.

The 10 Best Horror Movies of 2016

December 16, 2016

A shape-shifter, a baby-killer, a forest predator who communes with the Devil himself – the title character of Robert Eggers’ Puritan “folk tale” is a Satanic hag of the first order. And when this monster gets her claws into a 17th-century New England family excommunicated by their righteous religious neighbors, it feels less like a cathartic comeuppance for old-world bible-thumpers and more like a vicious assault on people trying their best to live and love in an unforgiving world.

I tag-teamed with my aptly named editor David Fear on a write-up for The Witch in Rolling Stone’s list of the year’s 10 Best Horror Movies.

The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

October 17, 2016

9. The Descent (2005)

Years before he redefined TV action with his work on Game of Thrones, British director Neil Marshall earned his place in the horror pantheon with this merciless survival-horror story. One year after a car accident shatters their bonds, a group of women go spelunking in a remote Appalachian cavern and unearth far more than they bargained for. The claustrophobic setting is intense and the creature effects genuinely disturbing, but the film’s greatness lies in its use of its main character’s raw, red grief as emotional kindling for the catastrophe that follows. Few of even the greatest genre movies dare to go places this deep.

Alongside a murderers’ row of critics, I wrote about some of the best horror films of the new millennium for Rolling Stone. (For the record, I was on the “Mulholland Drive IS a horror movie” side of the argument referenced in the intro.)

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 43!

December 21, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or Episode Seven Kingdoms

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Sean and Stefan discuss the new Star Wars movie! Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Jedi mind tricked us into dedicating this episode of our A Song of Ice and Fire podcast to an entirely different fantasy franchise. How did the film fit in with larger saga? How did J.J. Abrams’s direction differ from George Lucas’s? Is Rey a Mary Sue, and if so, how does that impact the film? What the hell was up with Starkiller Base? We answer all these questions and more, including a discussion of the film’s cinematography, the performances of its actors, the pros and cons of the characters, and even a few connections to the world of Westeros. I’ve got a good feeling about this…

Download Episode 43

Additional links:

Mirror.

Stefan’s review of the movie.

Tasha Robinson’s essay on Rey.

Previous episodes.

Podcast RSS feed.

iTunes page.

Sean’s blog.

Stefan’s blog.

“Under the Skin” Is the Best Horror Movie You’ve Never Seen

May 27, 2015

Like comedy and pornography, horror is a practical art with a concrete aim; it exists to frighten. This utilitarian aspect makes horror a genre that constantly interrogates its own past, examining how other scary movies scared people in order to refine and surpass them. So like almost all of the great horror films,Under the Skin exists in conversation with its forerunners. The main character’s pattern of luring lonely, horny, pasty men to a decrepit house to be consumed by some nightmare secreted from the floor evokes the plot of Clive Barker’s similar meditation on agony in the UK, Hellraiser; a late-game makeup effect recalls its even more uncompromisingly brutal sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The circular, ocular forms that dominate the movie’s abstract opening sequence recall not only the baleful gaze of the killer computer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (a frequent point of comparison in reviews) but also the similar combination of curvilinear shapes and unnerving musical dissonance that kicks off Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a film with which UtS shares an unarticulated but brutal meat-is-murder subtext, one that’s a lot clearer in the source novel).

Another Kubrick masterpiece, The Shining, earns a visual echo in the bird’s-eye-view shots of the characters driving the curvy roads carved through the rugged region. Its long silent passages, in which our sole window into the world of the film is the monster at its center, force us into her skin in a fashion reminiscent of Norman Bates’s clean-up and disposal in Psycho. Indeed, the ominous hums and screeching strings of Mica Levi’s score place it with Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, John Williams’s Jaws, and the Ligeti/Penderecki/Wendy Carlos/Rachel Elkind–dominated soundtrack of The Shining at the top of the horror movie music pantheon.

The list could go on—seriously, I cut several entries for space—but it’s important to note this: None of these elements exist to be spotted, per se. They’re not overt references or homages, but rather a bedrock on which the film can be built into something new and unique. Under the Skin uses our shared vocabulary of horror tropes and techniques to create a new language, just like the disembodied syllables we hear the main character murmur over the stunning, dissociative opening sequence evolve into the words she uses to seduce and destroy.

Under the Skin is one of the best horror movies ever made, and one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period. I make the case for it over at Decider.

This weekend I saw an okay movie called “Mad Max: Fury Road”

May 20, 2015

I liked it fine. It wasn’t bad, and it was never mindless which sets it a cut above 90% of action blockbusters, but it wasn’t great. It was okay.

And it was spectacular, but the spectacle added nothing but scale.  This is particularly true of the many chase sequences, which despite the well-publicized commitment to practical stuntwork had little of the white-knuckle claustrophobic about-to-break intensity of The Road Warrior. It was The Road Warrior but MORE, which in the end meant less. To be fair, The Road Warrior is flawless, a wholly original and alien vision, poetry in motion, probably the greatest action movie ever made, one of the best movies of any kind. Fury Road feels like George Miller took his masterpiece and added a bunch of unconvincing prosthetics to it, which in a sense he literally did.

To me the enthusiasm for Fury Road’s fantastical grandiosity is an echo (perhaps via influential cartoonist Brendan McCarthy, who storyboarded the film back in the day) of recent years’ fixation within the alternative/indie-comics world on Moebius and similar genre-comics artists who combine great technical ability with vivid visual imaginations; this attempt to realign the canon away from the Ware / Clowes / Doucet / Brown / Hernandez / Spiegelman / Crumb axis has been baleful for the artform in most every particular. (Simon Pegg was right.)

Miller also gave it an unambiguously happy ending, a big step back from the marvelous, singularly simultaneous gutpunch and uplift of The Road Warrior’s conclusion. A happy ending of this sort is fun, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t live off it.

Moreover, the sociopolitical praise for it, as is usually the case when people go berserk for giant pop-culture artifacts, is further evidence of the soft bigotry of low expectations. (Anita Sarkeesian was right.) You’ll be happy to hear that Mad Max: Fury Road takes a bold stand against the enslavement of women as broodmares by insane albino warlords, and that tough women with hip haircuts shoot guns in it. It’s a strange sort of progressivism that lionizes violence so long as it’s sufficiently badass and nominally egalitarian in its participants. It leaves us wishing Game of Thrones into the cornfield while demanding a Black Widow action figure in every pot.

Everyone in it was good, though, I’ll give it that as well. Tom Hardy is a god, Nicholas Hoult seems a very lively talent, Charlize Theron was rock solid. Like I said, it was fine, I enjoyed it I guess. It’s just that the existence of The Road Warrior renders it superfluous.

Movie Time: Ex Machina

May 8, 2015

spoilers below

I’ve never been interested in science fiction about “what it means to be human.” That is not a question that has ever once occurred to me to ask myself, much less interested me in being asked by others. I think I’ve got a pretty good grip on it, thanks! Like, what does it mean to be human? You’re soaking in it.

Moreover, I’m so likely to err on the side of caution with regards to the issue of “killing” an artificially intelligent machine that this facet of the subgenre holds no interest for me either. I’m a vegetarian pacifist who opposes the death penalty – don’t make a machine that would feel bad about getting unplugged. Boom, done.

So that’s problem number one for Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, as far as I’m concerned.

Problem number two is that while no one likes a good Bluebeard story more than I do (with one possible exception), this one tried to have its cake and eat it too with regards to the sexy naked lady robots in the evil inventor’s death closet, and the larger issue of male privilege and misogyny the evil inventor’s death closet represented. Obviously the film intends you to find the sexy naked lady robots creepy and the evil inventor’s behavior toward them loathsome, but the parade of fabulous nude bodies that ate up the film’s third act embodied (wink) the very problems it was ostensibly intended to critique. The tell here was the fact that Ava, the main sexy naked lady robot, stood around nakedafter she’d defeated the two human men involved in the story and was free to think and act on her own. At that point, the only male calling the shots was the director.

The final problem is that despite their primacy in the narrative, the two male characters were somehow still underexplored. As a subset of points one and two, I feel like I’ve had my fill of evil sexy robot lady stories for this life, so Ava, in the end, was just not that compelling a monster to me. You know who was, though? Nathan, the genius search-engine gazillionaire and evil inventor. If you’ve ever worked for a company owned by one or two very wealthy people, you know the unique horror of realizing that another human being can pretty much literally buy and sell you, completely upending your life before going home to their own that afternoon. There were feints, and more than feints, in this direction throughout the film, but in the end he was supplanted by his much less fearsome creation.

The awful fate reserved for his opposite number, Caleb, didn’t jibe either. How could it? It’s a plot point that Caleb was selected by Nathan to participate in the Turing testing of his evil sexy robot lady precisely because he’s a good-hearted cipher – kind and caring, but with nothing connecting him to the world at large. There’s no way for the horrific events of the film to feel like they are part of an emotional economy originating in that character, since he has so little in the bank.

Yes, it looks nice, but any knucklehead can make a stylish science fiction film look nice. That’s kind of their thing.

But the music, by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and his frequent collaborator Ben Salisbury, is overwhelming and tactile; it’s terrific. So is Oscar Isaac, so good at turning slightly-off creeps into these weird magnetic presences on film. And the dance scene? Fucking phenomenal. It’s the one part where the spectacle doesfeel like it sprang forth out of the psychic grotesquerie of this person’s brain. In that sense I guess it’s basically the “In Dreams” scene from Blue Velvet – <Morpheus voice> what if I told you this sexy, stylish psychological thriller was indebted to David Lynch? – but hey, I’ll eat it.