Rob Harmon’s Picks 10/27/15

Rob_photo_031715_WebHalloween Testimonial for Best Video

“It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.”

– Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Ah yes, Halloween is here and all that we associate with it: crisp, cold evenings; leaves changing and falling to the ground, crunching beneath our feet; and, of course, candy – sticky and cloyingly sweet on the tongue. Sunset comes a little earlier each day: like a theater’s lights dimming, we slip into another frame of mind, subconsciously giving ourselves over to a greater sense of fantasy and the desire for sensation… much like the experience, in fact, of watching movies!

What better way to celebrate Halloween than with a movie or even a beloved TV special from Best Video? Of course, scary movies are the order of the day, but one need not feel hemmed in by shivers and shocks: there are plenty of delightful classics (I MARRIED A WITCH, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE), “camp” classics (PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, TROLL 2, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), as well as family-friendly fare (GREMLINS, HOCUS POCUS, THE MONSTER SQUAD, FRANKENWEENIE, etc., etc.) which are perfectly appropriate for the season.

And yet, though I’ve seen a lot of scary movies in my life, I’ll tell you what would be really frightening: a world without Best Video.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here the upcoming handover of this beloved neighborhood institution from Hank Paper — who opened the business 30 years ago — to the Best Video Film and Cultural Center, a new non-profit board charged with running the video store, café, and performance space and guiding us towards the future. This is the culmination of well over a year’s worth of tireless work on the part of Mr. Paper, the board, and our staff. In essence, this is a critical moment in the life-story of this brick-and-mortar establishment and we need support and involvement from the community.

I have lost track of how many people have come up to me over time and told me that they grew up going to Best Video and now bring their own kids. Some of those grown-up “kids” are now even studying film and working in the film industry. This is no coincidence: Best Video U. is an education unparalleled… and cheaper, too, if you compare late fees to tuition!

Speaking of the future, in BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II, Marty McFly travels from the year 1985 to the once-unfathomable year of 2015. Isn’t it ironic that Best Video has traversed that same time period?! Why, one could say that the store itself is a sort of DeLorean time machine… except, of course, without those cool flip-up doors and a flux capacitor! Best Video is a time machine, allowing one to travel freely backwards and forwards in time. We may not have kooky stuff like hoverboards and flying cars in our garages just yet, but, thank goodness, we still have Best Video down the street! Here’s to 30 years… and more!

Okay, enough talk. Here’s a review:

It_FollowsIt Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell, 2015)

People watch scary movies for all sorts of different reasons. There are simply innumerable options along the continuum: roller coaster thrill rides, calibrated to deliver maximum jolts to teenagers; atmospheric slow-burners; very mildly creepy kid-friendly stuff.

I’m not completely certain what IT FOLLOWS is. Like any horror film, though, there is a set-up: girl, Jay (THE GUEST’s Maika Monroe), meets boy, Hugh (Jake Weary). They have sex. Afterwards, Hugh drugs Jay and, once she awakens, informs her that he has passed “something” on to her (and it’s not what you think): “This thing, it’s gonna follow you. Somebody gave it to me and I passed it to you…. It can look like someone you know or it can be a stranger in the crowd, whatever helps it get close to you. It can look like anyone.” Jay, it turns out, is now irrevocably in the cross-hairs of some indefinable “it” and will be mercilessly stalked by this ponderously-moving-but-never-sleeping, shape-shifting, malevolent wraith until she, in turn, has sex with someone else, passing on the ghostly manifestation like an unwanted chain letter. Yikes.

Some may roll their eyes at this as merely so much millennial drama or nonsense. The plot, certainly, has obvious metaphoric possibilities, and the reader is free to fill in any that they choose (anything from sexually-transmitted diseases to cyberstalking, etc.), yet it would be a disservice to the film to simply end there.

Director David Robert Mitchell (responsible for the ethereal coming-of-age story THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER) injects the film with grit and moments of implacable beauty. Mitchell, aside from his obvious knowledge of horror films and their genre conventions, further infuses his film with a class-consciousness that is both savvy and surprising (at one point the protagonists trace the malignant threat to the slums… and, yet, is it really from there or a better part of town?), proving that genre films are oftentimes better suited (or at least more seamless) at exploring serious issues than so-called “message movies.”

Mike Gioulakis’s camera jitteringly probes the horizon — the modern urban ruins of Detroit and its faceless suburbs — seemingly searching out imminent threats, the protagonists magnetically drawn to open spaces as they attempt to combat and/or escape their nightmarish horror vacui. Yet, while Jay and her friends flee from various dangers, we are also treated to the dreamy interludes which form the meat of their existence. At these moments the camera seems to linger – quite unexpectedly – dwelling on innocuous details such as the shimmering surface of a backyard pool, dirty laundry littering the floor of a teenager’s room, or sunset as one flies down the interstate with a few friends in the backseat.

In this queasy environment adults barely register, often with their backs turned to the camera, their voices barely audible. This is undoubtedly the world of the young, their hopes and regrets, and Mitchell ably creates a frighteningly claustrophobic space for it: drab Americana, drained of its meaning… an empty landscape waiting to be filled with incipient horrors, making for a chilling parable about youth today.

Special mention should be made of the music by composer Rich Vreeland, known as Disasterpeace (he has principally worked in video games up to this point). The synth-y strains of his score perfectly suiting the velvety tones of the film’s images and rhythms. In this respect, IT FOLLOWS links with a classic horror film tradition, its progressive score matching that of the music of such milestones as PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, SUSPIRIA, and THE SHINING in their sheer ability to shock and disrupt the viewer. (A hint: turn up the volume on this one!)

The truth is, IT FOLLOWS is many things: cynical, artsy, dreamy, beautiful… as well as the most ambitious horror film to emerge from the U.S. in a long time. It’s also pretty frickin’ scary.

New Releases 7/14/15

Top Hits
Ex_MachinaEx Machina (sci-fi, Oscar Isaac. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 78. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Manohla Dargis’ Times review: “‘Ex Machina’ is itself a smart, sleek movie about men and the machines they make, but it’s also about men and the women they dream up. That makes it a creation story, except instead of God repurposing a rib, the story here involves a Supreme Being who has built an A.I., using a fortune he’s made from a search engine called Blue Book. Mr. Garland, who wrote and directed, isn’t afraid of throwing around big names or heavy ideas, and he has pointedly named the search engine after Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1930s ‘Blue Book.'” Read more…)

Goodbye to All That (romance/drama, Paul Schneider. Rotten Tomatoes: 60%. Metacritic: 62. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “This poker-faced comedy, the directorial debut of Angus MacLachlan, who wrote the screenplay for the 2005 film ‘Junebug,’ everses the usual roles in a story that typically focuses on a wife blindsided by her husband’s infidelity. So stunned that he is left speechless, Otto might as well have been grazed by a sniper’s bullet. He later learns through Facebook that Annie has been having a torrid affair. Although the marriage had been sexless for two years, he was contented with the status quo.” Read more…)

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (comedy/drama, Maggie Smith. Rotten Tomatoes: 62%. Metacritic: 51. From Stephen Holden’s New York Times review: “Beyond its blindingly colorful palette, the pleasures to be gleaned from the sequel to the 2012 hit ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ derive from watching its eminent, mostly British cast ham it up while trying to inflate dramatic molehills into mountains. To get away with pretending that less is more, strenuous overacting is required.” Read more…)

It_FollowsIt Follows (horror, Maika Monroe. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 83. A New York Times Critic’s Pick. From Stephen Holden’s Times review: “‘It Follows’ opens nearly a year after winning the Next Wave award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Its acclaim derives from its masterly manipulation of mood by its cinematographer, Michael Gioulakis. The deadly menace, which seems to emerge from your peripheral vision, is initially hard to discern, but as it draws closer, never quickening its step, you sense its grim intention.” Read more…)

Maggie (post-apocalyptic thriller, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Rotten Tomatoes: 52%. Metacritic: 52. From Manohla Dargis’ New York Times review: “Zombies, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a certain Terrence Malick je ne sais quoi — what could go wrong? More or less everything in this low-budget head-scratcher and periodic knee-slapper. A bearded Mr. Schwarzenegger plays Wade Vogel, a strenuously humble American farmer who, not long after the movie opens, retrieves his 16-year-old daughter, Maggie [Abigail Breslin], from a world crammed with artfully uglified, zomboid victims of a ghastly virus. Cars burn, fields burn and every so often — as when Wade gasses up his truck — one of these hungry zombies goes on the attack.” Read more…)

New Blu-Ray
The Salt of the Earth
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

New Foreign
The Confession (France, 1970, political thriller, Yves Montand. From Vincent Canby’s 1970 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Costa-Gavras’s ‘The Confession,’ which opened yesterday at the Beekman Theater, is not, I think, a better movie than his prize-winning ‘Z,’ with which it will inevitably be compared, not only by the critics but also by those members of the public who may look for a repeat performance. The earlier film was a nearly perfect topical thriller whose form pretty much defined the substance of its liberal politics. However, because the subject of ‘The Confession’ is much more complex, much more human, I find it vastly more interesting than ‘Z,’ even when one is aware of the way Costa-Gavras manipulates attention by the use of flashy cinematic devices that sometimes substitute for sustained drama. It is a horror story of the mind told almost entirely in factual and physical terms, which is something of a contradiction.” Read more…)

State_of_SiegeState of Siege (France, 1972, political thriller, Yves Montand. From Vincent Canby’s 1973 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Costa-Gavras’s ‘State of Siege’ is a riveting film and possibly an inflammatory one. It oversimplifies recent history, but raises so many complex and important moral questions that to attack it for oversimplification may be just a discreet form of rationalization, of looking the other way…. Strictly as an example of film-making, ‘State of Siege’ is exceptionally shrewd. Although we have no doubt what the outcome of the narrative will be, Costa-Gavras and Solinas maintain our interest at what is sometimes called (in admitted desperation) a fever pitch. Through the kind of rapid cross-cutting made familiar in both ‘Z’ and ‘The Confession,’ they manage to make straight exposition hugely dramatic.” Read more…)

Here Is Your Life (Sweden, 1966, historical drama, Eddie Axberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 91%. Metacritic: 78. From Vincent Canby’s 1968 new York Times review [requires log-in]: “‘Here Is Your Life’ is a sweet, gentle, technically wise movie about a young man’s growing up in northern Sweden during World War I. It is a first feature by Jan Troell, the 27-year-old Swedish director who also photographed the movie, edited it and wrote the screenplay with Bengst Forslund.” Read more…)

The Treatment (Netherlands, thriller, Geert Van Rampelberg. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%.)

New Classic DVDs (pre-1960)
Black Hand (1950, crime drama, Gene Kelly. From bosley Crowther’s 1950 New York Times review [requires log-in]: “Even though M.-G.-M.’s ‘Black Hand,’ which came to the Capitol on Saturday, might cynically be designated as just a period gangster film, it has more to recommend it than a good, adventurous gangster plot. It has, in its picturization of New York’s ‘little Italy’ back in the unrestricted period of this century’s first decade, some rather affecting indications of the crowded and troubled world, novel and mystifying, in which this city’s Italian immigrants lived. And it has some quite colorful acting by a generally well directed cast, of which the best—and the most—is contributed by Gene Kelly and J. Carrol Naish.” Read more…)

New Documentaries
Salt_of_the_EarthThe Salt of the Earth (photography, social issues, nature, Sebastião Salgado. Rotten Tomatoes: 95%. Metacritic: 83. From A.O. Scott’s New York Times review: “‘The Salt of the Earth,’ Wim Wenders’s new documentary about the life and work of the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, elegantly inhabits a moral and aesthetic paradox. Mr. Salgado’s photographs illuminate some of the worst horrors of the modern world: starvation, war, poverty, displacement. They are also beautiful, dramatic visual artifacts, and their power has a double effect. We are drawn into the contemplation of terrible realities, but at the same time our attention turns to the person bearing witness.” Read more…)

Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 (World War I, history)
Animal Odd Couples (nature, animal emotions, science, Temple Grandin)
112 Weddings (photography, interpersonal relationships, marriage. Rotten Tomatoes: 79%. Metacritic: 74.)