Tag Archives: 2022

CAPSULE: THE RAZING (2022)

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The Razing is currently available for rental on Vudu.

DIRECTED BY: J. Arcane, Paul Erskine

FEATURING: Jack Wooton, Laura Sampson Hemingway, Logan Paul Price, Nicholas Tene

PLOT: Four friends from high school gather at Corey’s place for his birthday, as they have for years; this time around, it seems as if their world may be ending.

Still from The Razing (2022)

COMMENTS: There are some guidelines one should bear in mind when crafting film characters. If the characters aren’t entertaining, they should be relatable. If they aren’t relatable, they should be convincing. And if they aren’t convincing, they should be out of the way. In their film The Razing, directors J. Arcane and Paul Erskine never reach any of these levels, and so we’re left with a moody, stylized mess of melodrama.

The camera skulks around, centering the action (so to speak) in a vignette frame. Ostensibly it focuses on a stylishly open-plan home—the home of emotionally-addled rich boy Corey, to be precise—but it looks more like a gauchely decorated penthouse suite. Together with Ellie and Ray, he waits on Lincoln’s arrival. Ray’s brought his girlfriend, possibly against protocol; Lincoln eventually meanders in with his latest boy-toy. Together, the six sit down to an unpleasant dinner in which more scenery is chewed than food—an unimpressive feat given the scenery is merely a bougie dining room table. While some kind of apocalyptic incineration may be going on outside, the only action within these sprawling rooms is odd delivery of overblown dialogue about some past predicament illuminated through a series of flashbacks.

I will overlook the cinematographic decisions out of deference to the directors. While camera’s ooze-flow may not have been my cup of tea, it adequately fits the action’s (read: dialogue’s) lack of clarity: this story is rife with dangerous drugs and unreliable memories. However, I cannot bring myself to forgive the script. Lines like “I may have ended his life, but I wasn’t the one who stopped his heart”; “You sound like someone I used to know”; and “You can’t run from who you are” are among the ceaselessly unspooling rejoinders to ill-delivered outbursts of emotion. The Razing is peopled by characters all in desperate need of therapists, or perhaps just of a reminder that they really needn’t live like this.

It’s worth mentioning two elements in the film’s favor. First, despite everything, The Razing left me feeling contemplative afterwards. Second, I had never heard the nickname “Ellie-Belly” for someone named Eleanor before. But whatever guignol-flirting was going on here, I couldn’t buy it, no matter how hard I pulled on the rope which suspended my disbelief. It’s a muddled movie presented in a muddled fashion, and no one on the screen managed to rally a scintilla of concern on my part. As tragedy befell, I befelt it couldn’t befall fast enough.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Between the obnoxious, shouty characters and the distorted sound and visuals, the effect was more like dropping acid at a bad party than watching a horror movie.”–Jim Morazzini, Voices from the Balcony (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: TINY CINEMA (2022)

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Tiny Cinema is currently available for VOD rental or purchase. The Blu-ray releases on Oct. 11, 2022 and is available for pre-order.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paul Ford, Tyler Cornack

COMMENTS: Oh, anthology horror: what are we to do with you? There’s something of a process for writing about long-form narrative films. (There’s also a process for dealing with short films, albeit a semi-tragic one: largely ignore them because of the limited market.) But for me, anthologies present a quandary. The broad, brush-stroke of “Here are some themes and things that happened” clashes with the impulse to write about each of the titles. Tyler Cornack’s assembly of short films (developed, if I read correctly, from some of his even shorter films) rarely bores the viewer—a benefit of flitting from one story the next with due haste—and never quite draws the viewer into the world—a disadvantage of that very same process.

Brief poking around the internet suggests that the closing short, “Daddy’s Home,” was one of every other critics’ least favorite segments. However, this oddity best captured my attention and is clearly the weirdest of this oddball crop of macabre. Sam is on a blind date, and it is going well. So well that the young woman he’s ended up with busts out what he thinks is some casual cocaine. Having snuffed the bump, she informs him that, no, that is not blow, the ashes of her father. This triggers the most unusual curse I’ve ever witnessed. Troubled by this reveal, Sam endures the evening’s remains, and leaves the lady with no promise of ever seeing her again. The next day, the dad jokes begin. “Excuse me, do you have a bookmark?,” “I do have a book, but my name’s not ‘Mark’!,” is but one of the awful-awkward rejoinders he finds himself spouting. As he begins to age rapidly and lose his hair, he decides to visit the home of his blind-date for a showdown whose finale reminded me of a classic sketch involving seduced milkmen.

Other offerings include the smirk-inducing exploration of who the infamous “she” of “that’s what she said” might be; a Nekromantik 2/Re-Animator hybrid which has the welcome touch of showing personal growth in the main character; a liquor store robbery/sexual role-playing ensemble buddy comedy; a time-loop apocalypse tale which has the courage to ask the question, Would you have sex with your future self to save the planet?, and… so on in that vein. To praise this movie with faint damnation, each of the segments would have done better as a short before a film festival feature. Instead, these scattershot ideas are minimally held together by the dead-pan charisma of Paul Ford, whose welcome presence prevented me from tossing this into the Try Again bin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Cornack has found the perfect balance of narrative variety and tonal consistency. For while these stories flirt variously with sci-fi, or horror, or the tropes of mobster or heist flicks, what unifies them – beyond their shared location and the Host’s occasional interventions – is that they are all weird, witty and utterly wrong.”–Anton Bitel, Projected Figures (contemporaneous)

CHANNEL 366: THE SANDMAN (2022)

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Recommended*

DIRECTED BY: Mike Barker, Jamie Childs, Mairzee Almas, Andrés Baiz, Coralie Fargeat, Louise Hooper,

FEATURING: Tom Sturridge, Boyd Holbrook, Vivienne Acheampong, Vanesu Samunyai, , voice of

PLOT: Captured by a human magician, the entity Dream escapes after a century and sets about reclaiming his tools to rebuild his realm.

Still from The Sandman (2022)
The Sandman. Tom Sturridge as Dream in The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

COMMENTS: This Sandman is no “candy-colored clown.” Dream is more of a contemplative type, deathly pale, darkly haired, and pursed-lipped. But then, when we meet him, he has considerable reason to be. Roderick Burgess, dark sorcerer extraordinaire, has captured the ruler of the dream lands, and, with his son taking over the guardianship upon the wizard’s passing, kept him incarcerated for a century. So begins Netflix’s chronicle of “The Sandman,” an effects-filled, symbol-heavy, and, yes, dreamy vision of ‘s much beloved comic book series.

Dream is one of seven godlike entities collectively known as “the Endless,” and his realm (“the Dreaming”) is laid out in full splendor as we travel through it while he softly narrates the introduction. Tom Sturridge’s performance as Dream is well up to the task (even accounting for his excessive habit of pursing his lips). The first episode chronicles his capture, hinting at the world’s characters as we observe the Dream trapped in a glass-and-steel orb nestled within a summoning circle. There is a sad twist from the get-go, for we learn that it was not this particular Endless that Burgess was after—he intended to capture Death, to bargain with her to return his dead son.

Kirby Howell-Baptiste, as the friendliest Death this side of the divide, and Gwendoline Christie, as a prim-and-proper-and-not-ever-to-be-crossed Lucifer, shine in their roles. Dream’s early encounter with Lucifer in Hell hints of some nastiness to come (in season two, presumably). You see, having escaped his cage, Dream is weakened not only by the long-separation from his realm, but also from the loss of his regalia: a bag of sand which allows him to travel the dream world (as well as summon it); a helm, which allows him to travel freely through the waking world; and most importantly, a ruby amulet which allows him to craft dreams—and destroy them.

The fifth episode is the best. I give nothing away by telling you that Dream does collect his accessories, and it is in the pursuit of the final element—the ruby—that “The Sandman” experiences its strangest turn. Set almost entirely within a diner, the episode explores one man’s dream of a better world: a world in which lies cannot exist. The antagonist, and the man with this dream, is one John Dee (David Thewliss, providing the best performance of the series), the civilly unhinged son of the woman who stole Dream’s gear from Burgess all Continue reading CHANNEL 366: THE SANDMAN (2022)

CAPSULE: RESURRECTION (2022)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Andrew Semans

FEATURING: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman

PLOT: Margaret is a successful executive at a biotech firm who is in total control of her life until an unsettling figure from her past reappears after a twenty year absence.

COMMENTS: Sweet, home Capital District. It’s where Margaret hangs her hat. It’s where she takes her daily runs, adopting an air-slicing locomotion that hints at both determination and long-buried agitation. It’s where she raises her daughter, Abbie, and works her job at an unspecified kind of biotech company. Albany, New York: worth a visit, worth a lifetime stay. And for Resurrection‘s heroine, a place to escape to after a nasty experience on the opposite side of the continent.

The super-charged atmosphere of “things are going well” telegraphs early on that this is all about to change. (That this screened at Fantasia, preceded by a particularly enthusiastic introduction by festival coordinator Mitch Davis, also telegraphs this.) Rebecca Hall’s performance morphs from woman of steel into jagged pieces of sweat-caked paranoia at the appearance of a rather mild-looking, and mild-mannered, man from Margaret’s past named David (Tim Roth, doing us the courtesy of perfectly capturing understated evil). Margaret’s tightly wound self is cranked another turn, triggering the manic crash into the madcap finale.

Beyond my personal satisfaction of witnessing so many of my greater hometown’s landmarks on the big screen (an odd oval-building observed near the beginning, dear readers, is called “the Egg”), Resurrection generally exhibits every hallmark of a well-considered psychological horror movie, replete with increasingly unreliable narrator. Its approach to interpersonal power dynamics, particularly the dangers of charisma coupled with gaslighting, is dead-on. Tim Roth, on the surface, does not do much, but to perform as David, in this stage of the relationship between him and Margaret, he merely needs to prod ever-so-slightly for her to resign herself to performing the “kindnesses” he demands. Rebecca Hall carries her topsy-turvy character along a narrow path of believability, veering from dominance to terror, and supplication to hatred with ease, and sometimes within the same line.

The reason we’re considering this film on a weird movie site is because of the finale, about which I can say little for fear of giving away too much. Suffice it to say, while the build-up alone is worth it (Hall, Roth, and comparative neophyte Grace Kaufman all bring their “A” games), the culmination of David’s manipulation and Margaret’s crack-up makes for a memorable emergence of Owen Johnson to the world of cinema, as “Benjamin”—the baby who, twenty years prior, catalyzed the ensuing madness.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Resurrection] winds up several stops north of bonkers, in a finale that shoots for transgressive, psycho-biological role-reversal, but plays like 1994’s Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Junior given a torture-porn makeover… Nothing is a joke in ‘Resurrection,’ which takes itself so seriously in the commission of its increasingly bananas plot that all the craziness can’t even be said to be that entertaining — the odd surreal image aside.”–Jessica Kiang, Variety (contemporaneous)

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: BAZ LURHMANN’S ELVIS (2022)

Baz Lurhmann’s first film in 9 years is none other than Elvis (2022), as the entire globe seems to know by now. A summer blockbuster with no superheroes? So it would seem. As soon as the film was announced, a good number of American-variety Elvis fans took to the Internet, alternately expressing outrage and excitement, which validated that we have summer blockbuster material here. Most of the outrage focused on star Austin Butler, whom many compared unfavorably to Elvis (without seeing the film) or even hostility, accusing Butler of trying to replace Elvis. A disconcertingly large percentage of Elvis fans scrape the barrel bottom of all fandoms (and, given the competition from Marvel boys, that’s saying a lot).

Still from Elvis (2022)Since Elvis’ death in 1977, he has become a patron saint for rednecks in double wides, so it’s no surprise that a lot of Elvis fans are dyed-in-the-wool Trumpers. Given that, it’s equally no surprise that his posthumous association with a faction of the zealous WASP demographic has done him considerable harm. Over the last several years, Elvis’ sales have dwindled. Many minority groups see Elvis in a disparaging light, accusing him of cultural appropriation and lumping him together with the most deranged of his fan base. When Lurhmann’s film was announced, Butler wasn’t the only one Elvis fans pounced on. Luhrmann was targeted because of his assumed sexual orientation (“How dare one of ‘them’ make a film about our King?”), as well as Hanks, because he supported Hillary Clinton (cue Qcumbers-styled blood libel).

Of course, Elvis’ late in life supposed conservatism has fueled right-wing fantasies about him. Never mind that he once supported Adlai Stevenson, RFK, and MLK (although, reportedly Elvis never voted, and his 1970 rendezvous with Nixon seems to have been mostly born of a bored little boy fantasy about being a federal drug agent). Opinions are divided on whether 1970s Elvis was really the conservative he is sometimes painted to be. Still, one might argue that the 1950s progressive Elvis was far more innovative than the institutionalized Elvis of his last decade. Regardless, Elvis’ reputation has practically been flushed by Grand Old Party fans.

Mighty Mouse cape intact, here comes that madman Baz Lurhmann to save the day (and he has, with the box office approaching 200 million and Elvis product selling at its best levels since 1977). Still, Luhrmann did not set out to make a typical biopic, and has said that all along. He has a focused, if lean, narrative: the relationship between Col. Tom Parker (Hanks) and Elvis (Butler). Of course, not all films make an altar out of narrative, and Lurhmann has always been a maximalist aesthete. That idea that Elvis is not a biopic has been a source of contention for some of star’s ex-girlfriends (who were not Continue reading ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: BAZ LURHMANN’S ELVIS (2022)

CAPSULE: FLUX GOURMET (2022)

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Flux Gourmet is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Makis Papadimitriou, , Gwendoline Christie, Richard Bremmer, Asa Butterfield,

PLOT: A “culinary performance” art troupe undergoes a one-month residency at the “Sonic Catering Institute,” hampered by cutthroat rivalries and a chronic case of flatulence.

Still from Flux Gourmet (2022)

COMMENTS: Covered in tomato pulp, the nameless collective’s lead performer twitches and writhes naked on the floor in front of a select audience. She places a microphone inside her mouth to capture the sounds of her own digestion, then holds the mike to her forehead and repeatedly smacks herself with it, hard. Behind her stand two accompanists dressed in robes of white, manning a sound board connected to a blender and other appliances. They fiddle with knobs, transforming the noises of boiling soup and frying vegetables until the mix emerges as a distorted whale song symphony. Afterwards, the group thinks the performance went badly. But the audience didn’t notice, and is eager to show their appreciation to the performers with the traditional post-show orgy. In her notes the next day, the institute’s patroness complains about the prominence of the flanger in the sonic mix; the group’s leader doesn’t know what that is, but refuses to compromise her vision, on principle.

The absurd conceit of Flux Gourmet is that there is such a thing as “culinary performance,” and that there’s enough of an audience for it so that art institutes dedicated to the practice exist. The social dynamics of the cast, conversely, are believable and played perfectly straight: the manipulative patron, the narcissistic group leader obsessed with her vision, her two argumentative but ultimately submissive followers, the detached “journalist” passionlessly chronicling the affair solely because it’s a paying gig. The group’s rituals are entirely strange: synchronized morning awakenings followed by a one-hour silent walk through the grounds, improv roleplaying sessions where the trio pretend to shop for ingredients, VIP dinners where each of the performers are required to give a ceremonial speech. There’s also a sarcastic, haughty doctor on hand, an inappropriate romantic entanglement built around a fetish, and a group of terrorists sabotaging our crew out of spite because their residency application was rejected. Through it all our narrator, the “docierge” Stones, suffers an undiagnosed digestive problem that’s getting more and more uncomfortable and embarrassing. The primary symptom is constant flatulence.

The subject matter—a surreally unlikely performance art subculture, which gives the director a chance to reflect on his own artistic impulses— makes Strickland’s Flux Gourmet the perfect pairing with ‘s Crimes of the Future (2022) (although I can’t say which should serve as the appetizer, since both contain scenes sure to make you lose your appetite). The aesthetic debates in Flux Gourmet are, at least partially, meta-commentaries on Strickland’s style. The patroness’ complaint about the flanger setting is that “when you alter the sound that much you lose all connection to the activity… the best collectives here stretched the elastic of their culinary sounds as far as they could, but there was always a connection to the source material.” Flux Gourmet‘s leader is obstinately attached to her abstractions; after listening to the minor and reasonable suggestions, she slams her fist on the table and screams “I’m the boss!”

Strickland could be slyly satirizing himself in this scene, remembering conversations with producers and financiers who insisted that he tone down some grotesque or overly weird element from one of his previous films. Nevertheless, the debate address a central issue in his mature style. Strickland picks some subject matter (fashion and retail in In Fabric, performance art here) and stretches it as far as he can—while still maintaining some connection to the source material. That connection is revealed through his eye for a real absurdity of his chosen subject, which he twists into a surreal absurdity. If Flux Gourmet isn’t quite as successful as the immediately preceding In Fabric, was, it’s because it isn’t quite as funny. The satirical target here is a type of self-indulgent performance artist that the audience isn’t likely to have much experience with, other than through parodies in other movies. And although observational moments here elicit a chuckle, In Fabric‘s broad comic relief and insane retail propaganda monologues are sorely missed. Flux Gourmet is more of a sly comedy of manners—Strickland’s private joke on the audience is that the cheap, bawdy fart joke you anticipate never comes. Without enough comedy, the film’s flavor, while bold, is simultaneously off-balance, like a dish that is missing some crucial spice—or a song that needs to turn down the flanging just a notch. Nevertheless, adventurous palettes know they can’t go wrong with a serving of Strickland, even if it only primes their appetites for something more substantial.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

It’s a lengthy, languid descent into the weird world of visual arts, but Strickland’s distinct style imbues it all with a sumptuous visual and aural feast… Flux Gourmet offers a smorgasbord of commentary, leaving viewers with a lot to chew on- not all of it so easily digestible. It’s the precise type of strange that’s divisive, but so is art itself.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting (contemporaneous)