J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

PFF ’17: The Invisible Guest

Cell phones and the internet have undercut some of the traditional elements of mysteries and thrillers, but a locked room is still a locked room. Adrián Doria would know. He came to while locked in a hotel room with the dead body of his former mistress. That was super awkward. Nevertheless, the former rising star of Spanish industry might beat the wrap with the help of his expert trial consultant. However, he will have to tell her the full ugly truth in Oriol Paulo’s The Invisible Guest (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Philadelphia Film Festival.

Apparently, Doria and his former lover Laura Vidal were lured to the hotel, by someone blackmailing them with evidence of the first killing. Okay, Doria will have to back-up a little for the benefit of his witness prepper, Virginia Goodman and the audience. Most likely, all his troubles started on the drive back from his final assignation with Vidal. Swerving to avoid a deer, they fatally run another motorist off the road instead. Since, he was dead anyway, they just disposed of the car and body.

Oh, but of course, it couldn’t be so simple. There was maybe, possibly a witness or two. Plus, as a supreme irony, Vidal found herself face-to-face with the young soon-to-be-missing-under-mysterious-circumstances man’s parents, when his retired engineer father volunteered to fix her stalled auto.

Paulo clearly enjoys springing surprises and dropping shoes on the audience. Yet, in this case he starts with a pretty twisty premise, in that the exculpatory circumstances of Doria’s prospective testimony might be just as damning. Presumably, that is why he needs a good trial consultant.

The first half-hour of Guest is rather glum, but once it has all its pieces set up, it is jolly entertaining to watch Paulo gleefully knock them over. He has a lot of tricks of his sleeve, some of which will make guffaw with disbelief, but it is still great fun watching him try to pull them off. You just have to go with it and enjoy getting played.

Anna Wagener is just terrific as Goodman. Smart and righteous in a good way, she makes her a trial consultant worthy of Agatha Christie. Likewise, José Coronado seethes with quiet power and dignity as the outraged father, Tomás Garrido. Bárbara Lennie is also quite remarkable giving Vidal, the presumptive femme fatale, subtly different shadings with each successive flashback. Mario Casas is a bit of a blank slate as Doria, but anyone would be passive while getting the lectury third degree from Goodman.

Yes, the truth is indeed slippery in Guest, but human nature is a rock-solid constant. Paulo cranks up the tension and generally aims to please genre fans. The result is a film that should be a prime candidate for an English language remake, but it just wouldn’t be as good with over-exposed Hollywood thesps in the lead roles. Enthusiastically recommended, The Invisible Guest screens tomorrow (10/23) and Thursday (10/26) during this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Cincinnati is a very livable city, but it will probably never live down the shame from giving the world Jerry Springer. In contrast, a prominent cardio surgeon will be given the chance to repent for his sins through a wicked three-way Sophie’s Choice. The situation is highly surreal, but emotions are scrupulously held in check during Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.

Dr. Steven Murphy has it all: a thriving practice, a lovely ophthalmologist wife, a daughter he adores, and a son he is okay with. He is also giving back by spending time mentoring Martin, a disadvantaged teenager—except there might be something more sinister to their relationship. Nonetheless, he introduces Martin to his family, all of whom find the moody lad inexplicably charming—especially his daughter Kim.

Inevitably, Martin starts taking liberties, even attempting to fix Murphy up with his single mother. The doctor tardily tries to re-establish boundaries, but by this time the resentful teen has gained a strange hold over the Murphy family, especially Kim. Unfortunately for them all, Martin blames the Martin patriarch for the death of his father—and not without some justification. More to the point, Martin also seems to have some mystical unexplained power that will force Steven Murphy to become an active accomplice in his own karmic retribution.

Within Lanthimos’ maddening filmography, Sacred Deer is a conspicuously frustrating film. If you were blown away by The Lobster, but detested his Greek Freak films, like Dogtooth and Alps, you will find Sacred Deer sits uneasily between those two poles. Lanthimos manages to wring high tragedy out of his fantastical premise, but getting there is a bumpy ride. Problematically, it features the same extreme expressive reserve that distinguished The Lobster, but it was better suited to that dystopian universe and its absurdist rules everyone accepted at face value. In contrast, Deer is essentially set in our world. It is just viewed from acute angles.

As a result, we have to sit through a lot of mumbling and shrugging, before Lanthimos finally kicks it into gear. Yet, somehow the film mostly comes together during the chilling climax—or maybe almost, but not quite. Either way, it is a close call.

Colin Farrell similarly feels like he is repeating himself from The Lobster, but while his prior sad sack character always seemed to be screaming under his blandly nebbish exterior, Dr. Murphy really comes across as a shallow jerk, who is quiet because he doesn’t have anything to say. Likewise, Nicole Kidman seems to be recycling previous ice queen roles in films like Eyes Wide Shut, Strangerland, and, Heaven help us, Trespass. Frankly, Barry Keoghan’s sullen mouth-breathing makes it hard to believe Doc Murphy would ever bring Martin within one hundred yards of his family. At least, Alicia Silverstone hits some poignant notes while playing against time as Martin’s Mother—wow, Cher from Clueless playing a widowed mom.

Even though we are still wrestling with our misgivings, we would re-watch Sacred Deer five times than sit through just the first fifteen minutes of Alps again. Granted, this is a highly idiosyncratic film, but the ways in which Lanthimos makes it conform to the aesthetics of The Lobster actually work against it. Earning a deeply mixed review, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is still the sort of weirdness cult film fans need to see to keep current. Use your own judgment. It is now playing in New York, at the Regal Union Square downtown and the AMC Loews Lincoln Square uptown.

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Culture Vulture: Dalida

She was part Édith Piaf, part Juliette Gréco, part disco diva, and part black widow. Under her stage name, the French-naturalized Egyptian-Italian Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti, a.k.a. Dalida, became one of the top-selling recording artists in European history, but her personal life was relentlessly tragic. Lisa Azuelos, the daughter her Gigliotti’s contemporary, Marie Laforêt, gives her subject the glossy and gossipy big-screen bio-treatment in Dalida (trailer here), which screens as part of Laemmle’s Culture Vulture series this Monday and Tuesday.

For the Gigliottis, music was the family business. Her beloved father was first violinist at the Cairo Opera, until he was warped and broken by his time in an Allied internment camp. Immigrating to France to pursue some kind of show business career, Dalida won a fateful radio talent contest in front of the network director, Lucien Morisse, and legendary record executive Eddie Barclay. Both men would play instrumental roles guiding her early career. Morisse also married her, but it would be a short-lived union.

Dalida the film opens in media res, following her first, unsuccessful attempt to take her own life, following the suicide of her younger Italian lover. He will not be the last man in her life to opt for his final out-chorus. In fact, the darkly poetic notion that Dalida and death were constant companions is a recurring motif throughout the film. You might think she had met her match when she started a romance with Richard Chanfray, a magician and TV personality, who claimed to be the 700-year-old Count de Saint-Germain, but don’t count on it.

Sveva Alviti is a strong likeness of Dalida and she manages to project class and dignity amid all the lurid melodrama. It is actually a very physical performance, with her looking frightfully skinny during the singer’s regular bouts of anorexia. Many of the music tracks actually feature the subject herself, but Alviti still has considerable stage presence and dance moves.

Reportedly, Morisse’s daughter has taken issue with the way Azuelos and her co-screenwriter Orlando (Dalida’s brother) depicted her father, but Jean-Paul Rouve’s performance is rather complex and forgivingly human. For what it’s worth, as Barclay, Vincent Perez hardly looks like himself, but it is definitely a larkier role to play.

If you dig French pop, then Azuelos’s film will be a great deal of guilty, dishy fun. Even if you don’t, it will lead to a considerable appreciation for Dalida’s talents. Not many stars can truthfully claim they worked with Egyptian auteur Youssef Chahine and Saturday Night Fever choreographer Lester Wilson, aside from her. Recommended as a whirlwind musical tour of mid-Twentieth Century France rather than high art, Dalida screens this coming Monday night (10/23) and Tuesday afternoon (10/24), as part of Laemmle’s Culture Vulture film series.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

1922: More Stephen King on Netflix

It seems like 98% of Stephen King’s fiction is set in Maine, but hardcore fans will recognize the semi-fictional town of Hemingford Home, Nebraska. The dustbowl burg played a tangential role in The Stand and It, but it was the primary setting of one short story and one novella. The latter joins Big Driver and A Good Marriage as the third of the four novellas published together in Full Dark, No Stars to be adapted for the screen. The Nebraska plains are indeed bad lands in Zak Hilditch’s 1922 (trailer here), which premieres today on Netflix.

Wilfred James was born to work the land, but his dissatisfied wife Arlette, not so much. Ironically, she is the one who inherits one hundred prime acres from her father, but she intends to sell out to a pork agribusiness and open a dress shop in the sinful metropolis of Omaha. Of course, she intends to take their fourteen-year-old son Henry (or Hank, depending on which parent is calling him) with her. It also stands to figure the pig processing plant would render Wilf’s eighty acres unfarmable. Hence, he rather resents her for these plans, but most of all, he just hates her for being her.

James has murder in his heart, but he lures Hank into his plan, using some nefarious bait. The shrewdly observant farmer recognizes his son is head over heels for Shannon Cotterie, who probably is the girl next door, but that still a decent hike’s distance. Mean old Arlettte speaks of her in course, dismissive terms and her scheme would obviously separate the smitten teens, so she is going to die. Unfortunately, the actually killing is much messier than anyone expected. Then the rats start feasting on her corpse stashed in their abandoned well. No matter how hard he tries, James cannot eradicate the infestation. In fact, the rats become progressively more aggressive.

1922 is not the scariest King adaptation ever, but it ranks highly in terms of atmosphere and sense of place. This American Gothic tale wouldn’t be as convincing if it were set on a hardscrabble Down East maple syrup farm. It boasts a potent sense of loneliness and disconnection from human society. There are some chilling moments, but generally, 1922 is more akin to really strong Twilight Zone and E.C. Comics stories. Yet, there are plenty of genre elements, including ghosts, swarming rats, in media res confessions, Freudian misogyny, and cows living in the farm house.

Thomas Jane is really terrific growling and sighing as the haunted (literally) Wilf James. He is chillingly manipulative in the early scenes, yet it is shocking to see him laid so low by karma in the third act. Jane also makes a convincing case for the lead role if anyone is looking to produce the Tom Waits story. The counterbalancing Molly Parker is wonderfully tart and nasty as Arlette. Plus, the ever-reliable Neal McDonough puts the exclamation point on the film as Cotterie’s well-to-do father.

Netflix really seems to get how Stephen King should be done. Instead of bloated tent-poles, they are acquiring lean and mean adaptations from interesting filmmakers, like Hilditch, whose These Final Hours is one of the most distinctive end-of-the-world films in the last five years. Like Gerald’s Game, it features a first-class cast that well suits the material, but probably lacks the sort of Q-scores Hollywood would put its faith in. Highly recommended, 1922 starts streaming today on Netflix.

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Killing Gunther: Don’t Stop with Him

When you think about it, hitmen are really serial killers who get paid for it. Nevertheless, the movie business likes to romanticize them. This is shaping up to be a bumper year for hitmen comedies. If you want to watch something smart and challenging, check out Kills on Wheels. If you’re in the mood for something dumb but funny, the surprise hit Hitman’s Bodyguard is probably still around. It looks like collaboration between Preston Sturges and Noel Coward compared to Taran Killam’s dumb but excruciatingly unfunny Killing Gunther (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Blake is a whiny, self-absorbed hitman, who is determined to leap-frog to the top of his industry by taking out the long-reigning top dog, Robert Bendik, a.k.a. Gunther. To do so, he recruits a team of top professionals, including Donnie the demolitions expert, Sanaa the femme fatale sniper, a pair of creepy Russian siblings, and Yong, a useless poisoner. They try to set up Gunther with a phony contract, but he still has the drop on them. Inevitably, the hunters become the hunted. We will see the tables turn mockumentary-style, thanks to the documentary crews the two rival hitmen have convinced at gunpoint to capture their shenanigans.

Right now, you’re probably wondering who is Taran Killam? In the short run, the answer is one of those blandly disposable former SNL cast-members. Judging from this film, the long-term answer is he’s nobody. As Blake, Killam is just an offensively boring man-child. If he gave you the choice of documenting his every move on camera or a bullet to the head, you would probably say: “double tap me now.” However, if you want unrepentant shtick than brother, does Arnold Schwarzenegger ever deliver. It is down-right depressing watching his gas-bag gags involving country & western crooning and lederhosen.

As Sanaa, Hannah Simone is about the only cast-member who shows any dignity and screen presence during the film. Yet, Killam cannot resist undercutting her with awkward jokes involving her fanatically over-protective Iranian father Rahmat. Cobie Smulders doesn’t get much chance to exercise her comedy chops as Lisa McCalla, the ex-girlfriend of both Blake and Gunther, but that also means she gets through the movie relatively unscathed (watch her work in the weirdly underappreciated Slammin’ Salmon instead).

After fifteen minutes, you’ll want to take a contract out on this movie. Gunther causes genuine pain and we are not talking about ribs that are sore from laughing. However, it should lead to an upward critical reappraisal of Hitman’s Bodyguard, a mere two months after its initial release. Just plain sad, Killing Gunther opens today (10/20) in New York, at the Village East.


Leatherface: The Latest Texas Chainsaw Origin Story

Old horror franchises never die—they just get the Hell rebooted out of them. It is time to go back to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre well yet again. This time, we get the origin story of the nastiest and most sadistic of the clan. If you are wondering how this squares with Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, released way back in 2006, I’m afraid you are on your own when it comes to questions of canonical continuity. The title character is still a fresh-faced kid, but he will change during the course of Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury’s Leatherface (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

The knuckle-dragging Sawyer family regularly gets away with murder, but killing the daughter of Texas Ranger Hal Hartman is pushing the envelope, even for them. Believing in a Roy Moore Biblical kind of justice, Hartman whisks away Jed Sawyer, the youngest of the brood, using a dubious order of protection. Actually, a legitimate case could be made Jed needs protecting, if he were not dumped into a nightmarish bedlam style looney bin.

About a decade or so later, young Jed is now known by his alias, whatever that might be. Murderous matriarch Verna Sawyer is still desperate to regain custody, but Hartman and the hospital director continue to stymie her. However, Jed will soon be leaving as one of a small group of escaping inmates who take the decent, well-intentioned Nurse Lizzy hostage. Seth M. Sherwood’s screenplay wants to keep us guessing as to which one will become Leatherface, but it is pretty easy to guess on the basis of relative screen time.

With the late Tobe Hooper only credited as an executive producer, Leatherface the movie has just one thing going for it—Stephen Dorff going all in as Hartman. When he is yelling and glaring and chewing the scenery, the movie actually starts to generate a little bit of fun. Still, it is frustrating to see his character make the same dumb horror movie mistakes. Seriously, he is a Texas Ranger. When stalking murderous backcountry folk, he should shoot first and keep shooting. Talking can wait.

Independent Spirit Award winner Lilli Taylor looks weirdly out of place as Verna Sawyer, but she does her best to snarl and hiss, Vanessa Grasse is way too shy and retiring to make us believe she could be a “final girl,” but we can’t help feeling for her. Everyone else is basically a caricature, a cliché, or an idiot with dubious motivation.

Although there are far fewer chainsaws in Leatherface than most Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise installments, this is still a very brutal movie. Yet, it fails at what is supposedly its primary mission. None of the bloody mayhem we see convincingly explains how Jed the ward of the state becomes the savage Leatherface. Frankly, the transition is abrupt and baffling. Not recommended, Leatherface opens today (10/20) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Never Here, Produced by Pang Ho-Cheung

Miranda Fall’s latest exhibition is so creepy, it is hailed as a work of genius by the art press. Basically, when she found a poor schmuck’s phone, she proceeded to spy on him and utterly invade his personal space. Naturally, she is rather taken aback when the exposed Arthur Anderton reacts with outrage. Doesn’t he understand privacy is out of fashion? Fall finds the shoe is on the other foot when a mystery man starts stalking her, but the situation really gets complicated when she stalks him right back in Camille Thoman’s Never Here (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Her opening was an unalloyed triumph for Fall, except for Anderton’s grouchiness. Then the chaos starts. While spending the night in her flat, Fall’s married gallerist lover Paul Stark sees an assault from her window. When he refuses to call the police, she does so in his place, much like Steve Guttenberg in Curtis Hanson’s Bedroom Window. Predictably, Fall soon finds herself floundering through line-ups, relying on Stark’s vague description. Of course, she cannot risk fingering the wrong person, but she gets serious vibes from one of the suspects, so she starts following him. Maybe he is following her too, or perhaps it is Anderton or maybe even someone else.

In the small world department, it turns out the cop assigned to the case is a former college boyfriend and the victim is the journalist who just wrote up a fawning profile of Fall. Both start to doubt her slippery account of that fateful evening. We might have our doubts too. Fall definitely has the potential to turn out to be one of those “unreliable narrator” types.

Thoman is obviously deeply steeped in Antonioni’s Blow-Up: an ostensive mystery set in the hipster art world that becomes increasingly ambiguous and hallucinatory. Regrettably, but probably predictably, Thoman falls short of that lofty target. Too often, Never Here feels like it is being obscure for obscurity’s sake, rather than as part of a grand vision. There is the possibility Fall is nuts, or maybe it is just us, but the movie itself isn’t crazy enough. Fearing commitment, it never stops playing the is-she-or-isn’t-she game, without ever over-extending itself in either direction.

Still, Mireille Enos has an intriguing screen presence that mostly works in the context of the film. However, the most memorable turn comes from the late Sam Shepard as Stark, whose surprising complexities and human messiness will be revealed over time. Nina Arianda also has some interesting moments as the unfortunate journalist.

Cinematographer Sebastian Winterø gives the film an ominously beautiful look that suits its Lynchian and Hitchcockian influences. Nonetheless, we cannot help wondering what the film could have been like if it had been helmed by producer Pang Ho-cheung, especially given the madness of his HK slasher Dream Home (there is a film that had no problems committing). Frustrating and ultimately disappointing, Never Here is only for hardcore fans of Robbe-Grillet novels and sinister-looking art films, when it opens tomorrow (10/20) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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Kills on Wheels: Hungary Delivers Plenty of Attitude, but No Cliches

Working as a hired killer is a heck of a way to build up self-worth, but at least the wheelchair-bound Zoli has finally found something that engages him. He suffers from a progressive curvature of the spine that will eventually kill him without corrective surgery, but his refuses to accept his absentee father’s guilt money. Perhaps he and his roommate Barba will be able to fund the procedure themselves when they start assisting Rupaszov, a professional killer recently paralyzed from the waist down. Nobody sees them coming, except maybe Rupaszov’s double-crossing client in Attila Till’s Kills on Wheels (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Zoli’s mother tries to sugarcoat it, but he knows his father walked out soon after he was born to avoid dealing with him. Like a Dostoevskian character, he would rather implode on his own terms rather than take scraps from the table of the well-to-do father he has never met. However, there could be an alternative, thanks to the arrival of Janos Rupaszov at their assisted living facility.

Before his injury, Rupszov was a fireman, but he now works as an assassin for Rados, a Serbian gangster out to eliminate an entire rival gang, man by man. Initially, Rupaszov cuts through them at a blistering clip. After all, nobody considers a man in a wheelchair to be any kind of threat, so guards are down around him. Of course, as the hits get more complicated, he needs a handful of assistants like Zoli and Barba, who happen to be equally invisible to the man on the street. Aside from the semi-autobiographic but highly exaggerated comic book Zoli’s is writing with Barba, his work with Rupaszov is about the only thing that will get him to stop moping around their room.

Throughout Kills, Till walks a fine line with the agility of a Flying Wallenda. He definitely delivers the edgy, dark humor the very premise promises, but the film never feels exploitative. In fact, Till’s screenplay sneaks up on viewers emotionally coldcocking them in the third act. Hungary isn’t exactly the most progressive nation on Earth these days, which might heighten some viewers’ wariness. Yet, Till has probably produced the year’s smartest, most sophisticated film about comparative abilities. Frankly, Hollywood and Western Europe do not have the gumption to make such an honest, in-your-face film, so it is up to the couldn’t-give-a-damn Orban-era Hungary to blast away our self-serving clichés.

Drawing from their real-life experiences, Zoltán Fenyvesi and Ádám Fekete play Zoli and Barba like complicated characters rather than symbols. Indeed, they are completely and utterly believable teenagers: ill-mannered, uncouth, and generally preoccupied with girls. As Rupaszov, Szabolcs Thuróczy’s magnetic screen presence compliments them nicely. On the other side of the coin, Dusán Vitanovics is entertainingly sinister as the absolutely, positively irredeemable Rados.

There is no cheap sentiment in Kills, but Till still manages to earn a little the hard way. That might sabotage the ending for hardcore cynics out there, but they can’t fault the gutsy build-up. Recommended more for people who don’t think they’ll like it rather than those who do, Kills on Wheels opens tomorrow (10/20) in New York, at the Village East.


Margaret Mead ’17: Almost Heaven

The only thing that frightens seventeen-year-old Ying Ling more than ghosts is China’s sky-high teen unemployment rates. For the sake of her family, she will do her best to soldier through the mortician training program at an enormous factory-like mortuary over one hundred miles from her home. However, she will also make friends and start asserting her independence in Carol Salter’s observational documentary Almost Heaven (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

We never learn how Ying Ling manages to hire on with the Mingyang Mountain Funeral Home, but she is clearly uncomfortable with the nature of the work. However, she often gets timely assistance from a fellow trainee with slightly more experience. For now, they are platonic friends, but the potential for a more romantic relationship is as plain as the nose on the corpse they are grooming.

Ying Ling is a good kid, who struggles with loneliness, but also starts to develop a clear sense of herself. Not to be spoilery, but the ending implies she will get some happiness out of life which is a genuine relief. She is indeed the sort of guileless documentary subject we might otherwise worry about.

In fact, watching Almost Heaven makes us suspect Salter maybe had a more Wisemanesque film originally in mind, but let the charismatic Ying Ling assert control of the film. Yet, she is arguably quite representative of a wide swath of the Chinese population. She and her family face some serious but not dire challenges. She might just be more resilient than most.

Salter could do far worse than periodically revisit Ying Ling in the Michael Apted tradition. Almost Heaven even ends at a perfect transition point to start the next doc, rather than waiting seven years. Regardless, it certainly puts an acutely human face on Chinese unemployment and the increasingly migratory way of life for the Mainland’s working class and even lower middle class. Highly recommended, Almost Heaven screens this Sunday (10/22), as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Fortress: The Winter of Joseon’s Discontent

It was a lot like a Korean Valley Forge when King Injo retreated to the Namhansanseong mountain fortress during the winter of 1636, but it did not end so well for the Joseon Kingdom. They were indeed times that tried men souls, but they were made exponentially worse by the corruption and arrogant sense of entitlement held by senior members of the royal court. At least that is the revisionist perspective offered by Hwang Dong-hyuk’s The Fortress (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

History has not been kind to King Injo, for good reason. Even during the early days of the encampment, Kim Sang-hun finds himself cleaning up resentments caused by the court’s stingy, high-handed behavior. Morale will only continue to plummet as hunger and record low temperatures take its toll on the beleaguered troops.

Strategically, Kim is diametrically opposed to the peace overtures reluctantly advocated by Choi Myung-kil, a senior official who has few friends at court, yet still enjoys the King’s confidence. Nevertheless, the two foes often find themselves allied together, arguing for better conditions for the King’s soldiers, over their colleagues’ petty objections.  Having seen the enemy camp, Choi knows they are badly outnumbered. News of the impending arrival of Nurhaci, the Qing Khan himself further raises the stakes. However, Kim’s desperate plan to save the kingdom has a puncher’s chance of working, but he will only trust Seo Nal-soi, a common-born blacksmith pressed into army service, as his messenger.

It is hard to believe this gritty, downbeat adaptation of Kim Hoon’s historical novel came from Hwang, the man who brought the world the Miss Granny franchise.  This is a cynically class-conscious film that explicitly argues the dithering king and his nonproductive court of leeches only have themselves to blame for their spectacular humiliation. Yet, apparently, there is a robust domestic market for such sentiments, because The Fortress set new attendance records for the Chuseok (“Korean Thanksgiving”) holiday.

It is also a bit surprising to find international action superstar Lee Byung-hun playing the peacenik Choi. However, he is certainly an intriguing character, who is resigned to his anticipated infamy, if it secures the King’s survival. Lee projects the necessary graveness and gravity, but he still can’t compete with the steely gravitas of Kim Yoon-seok’s Kim Sang-hun, looking at least ten years older than the thesp really is—and they are a hard ten years.

Hwang stages some impressive battle scenes that viewers have to admire, even though he telegraphs the bitter end from the earliest stages. As result, Fortress has the vibe of high classical tragedy, with every short-sighted decision bringing King Injo closer to his downfall. The atmosphere of stately woe is further enhanced by the score penned by the legendary Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Revenant, The Last Emperor, etc.). It is an impressive film in nearly every respect, but the maddening inevitability of it all will have viewer pulling out their hair, which is probably exactly what Hwang was going for. Recommended for fans of historical epics, The Fortress opens this Friday (10/20) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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Recent Spanish Cinema ’17: The Invisible Guardian

The Basajaun is sort of like a Basque Bigfoot, but it has more positive connotations, as a fabled protector of the forests. Naming a serial killer after it is culturally insensitive, like a “Kokopelli Killer” would be in the American Southwest, but what does the media care? Maybe, just maybe, there is a Basajaun tangentially involved in Amaia Salazar’s case, but it is her own family who will really complicate the investigation in Fernando González Molina’s The Invisible Guardian (trailer here), which screens during the Recent Spanish Cinema series in Los Angeles.

Salazar is from Navarre, but she has been gone so long many now consider her an outsider. She had her reasons for leaving, including profiling training with the FBI in Quantico. That is why she has returned. As the lead investigator on a serial killer case, Salazar quickly determines their suspect may have been active over seven years earlier. For some reason, the killer temporarily went dormant, but the monster has re-awakened and refined its M.O. The “Basajaun Killer” now strategically places a local pastry on the victims’ bodies. Rather awkwardly, the txantxigorras are very much like the ones baked in Salazar’s family bakery, now managed by her estranged sister Flora.

The case really hits close to home when Salazar’s ineffectual, anti-social brother-in-law through her other sister attempts suicide, under dubious conditions. She manages to clear him of formal suspicion, but in doing so, she sticks her neck out. Weird things bordering on the uncanny seem to be afoot and her flashbacks to the abuse she suffered as a child unnerve her even further. At least she can count on back-up from Johan Etxaide, an honest local copper and the wise counsel of her fortune telling grandmother and her FBI mentor now assigned to New Orleans.

Guardian is probably best classified as a thriller, but at times it knocks on horror’s door. This is a massively moody and atmospheric film that makes the most of Navarre’s narrow, ancient streets and the dark and murky surrounding forests. Molina keeps the tension cranked up, periodically flirting with supernatural elements to kick it up even higher. A midnight tarot reading? Sock it to us.

As the emotionally scarred but assertive and proactive Salazar, Marta Etura makes a rock-solid, sympathetic and believable sleuth-protagonist. Itziar Aizpuru is also terrific as her granny, Tía Engrasi, especially in their slightly spooky scenes together. Colin McFarlane adds some coolness in his all-too-brief scenes as the sage FBI instructor. However, Guardian is really distinguished by intangibles, like vibe, tactile “feel,” and general mise-en-scene.

Guardian is the kind of film that grabs viewers immediately and pulls them through quickly. It might not do much to boost Navarre tourism, even though Molina makes the most of the regional locales. It also makes us curious to see what he might do if he went all in on a proper horror movie. Enthusiastically recommended for fans of serial killer thrillers, The Invisible Guardian screens this Friday (10/20) as part of Recent Spanish Cinema at the Egyptian Theatre in LA.

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Margaret Mead ’17: So Long Asleep

It has been a long time coming, but the suffering of Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army—the wianbu comfort women—are finally starting to be acknowledged by NGOs and documentary filmmakers. However, the plight of hundreds of thousands of Korean farm-boys pressed into hard (often even fatal) involuntary labor is still a story that remains largely untold (Battleship Island addresses the slave labor, but its principal characters are far from representative). Chung Byung-ho, a U.S.-trained Korean anthropologist and Yoshihiko Tonohiro, chief priest of the Ichijoji Buddhist temple joined forces to honor the memories and repatriate the remains of 155 Korean young men who perished while constructing the Uryu Dam in Hokkaido. David Plath documents their long-deferred homecoming in So Long Asleep: Waking the Ghosts of War (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

The area surrounding Lake Shumarinai has recorded some of Japan’s lowest temperatures ever, so you can imagine what the working conditions were like for the young Koreans, who were essentially slave laborers. The discovery of their remains was initially a matter of chance. Tonohiro and some colleagues had come to admire the dam, where they were approached by the caretaker of the local temple, which had storeroom full of memorial tablets. These tablets were a bit different, in that they were inscribed with the deceased’s native Korean name and their assigned Japanese name.

Tonohiro soon discovered the remnants of bodies still collectively buried at the former municipal graveyard. The priest began an effort to excavate and repatriate the remains, but the project really took shape when Chung started directing their efforts. Many Korean, Japanese, and Zainichi Korean-Japanese provided the labor, embracing the project’s spirit of healing. Yet, not quite everyone fully came on board. Japanese war crimes-deniers successfully manipulated the local bureaucracy to thwart a memorial, while North Koreans who participated in the excavations, were not allowed to continue to South Korea for the internment ceremony.

Since the mass graves were located on their ancestral lands, the indigenous Ainu people prepared special rituals for the reclamation process, which makes So Long Asleep an especially fitting selection for the Mead fest. The film is also relevant to students of comparative religion, because it captures Buddhist, Catholic, and Shamanistic ceremonies performed for the 155 repatriated remains.

In terms of production values, So Long Asleep is pretty no-frills, but it captures some deeply moving moments. Frankly, it is surprising how much emotional kick this film has, since most of wartime laborers’ friends and family are now deceased. Yet, many young Korean and Japanese people recognized the enormity of their fate and became genuine surrogate mourners.

So Long Asleep gives us a thimble-full of hope Japan and South Korea can finally heal their wounds and resentments stemming from the war and occupation (to unite against a common threat to regional stability, the Communist PRC regime). It is also an inspiring example of faith (Buddhism, Shamanism, Catholicism) in action, making a constructive difference in society. Highly recommended, So Long Asleep screens this Saturday afternoon (10/21), as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Silent Voice: The Anime Movie

Most films about teen bullying are horror movies, but this is something completely different. Probably the most mature and sophisticated film to address bullying since it became a high-profile media issue happens to be an anime adaptation of Yoshitoki Ōima’s hit manga series. Any adult or reasonably empathic teen will appreciate the drama and artistry of Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Shōya Ishida bitterly regrets his elementary school years. He was hardly the only student who bullied Shōko Nishimiya, a deaf girl, who briefly attended their school, but he would be the first to admit he was the worst offender. When things really got ugly he took the fall. As a way to save face, his classmates blamed him for everything and shunned ever since Nishimiya withdrew from their school. All but giving up on redemption, Ishida plans to commit suicide, but first he makes a final attempt to make amends with Nishimiya.

Much to her surprise, the remorseful Ishida has even learned sign language. It is an awkward meeting, but she does not completely give him the Heisman. Once Ishida convinces Yuzuru, Nishimiya’s tomboyish little sister and self-appointed gate-keeper of his honorable intentions, he starts to meet her often. However, communications problems and their mutual low self-esteem constantly sabotage the potential romance viewers are rooting for. Meanwhile, two additional former classmates re-enter the picture: Sahara, the only student who genuinely befriended Nishimiya and Ueno, the queen of the mean girls.

The way this group of students are constantly drawn back together might sound contrived, but life really seems to work that way. Regardless, Silent Voice is not a pat and predictable afterschool special. This is an emotionally sophisticated film that never lectures its audience. Frankly, there are several logical junctures where Voice could have started wrapping things up and letting its characters off their hooks, but instead the film just gets even messier.

One point that jumps out of Voice is just how much damage Ishida’s bullying does to his reputation and his self-image. For years, he has to live with being that guy. It definitely distinguishes the film from other more conventional anti-bullying films. Visually, it is also quite appealing, sort of representing a stylistic cross between the mostly realistic Your Name and the graceful pastels of Doukyusei. In fact, Yamada has a keen eye for visuals, incorporating a number of striking water motifs. Yet, more importantly, Ishida, Nishimiya, and many of their classmates are unusually complex and well-developed characters, who cannot be reduced to mere victim and tormentor stereotypes.

Voice will be fully Academy Award-eligible and it constructively addresses a hot-button issue. Best of all, it is a terrific film, but it is frustratingly a very long longshot for an Oscar nomination, because the Academy seems unwilling to give anime the time of day. That is really a shame in this case, because Voice truly deserves the attention.  It is just uncompromising truthful and achingly poignant. Very highly recommended, A Silent Voice opens this Friday (10/20) in New York, at the Village East.

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Maigret Sets a Trap: Jean Gabin is Jules Maigret

He is often called “Inspector,” but Jules Maigret was in fact the Commissioner of the Paris Major Crimes Division. He is a sleuth, but also a bureaucrat. Some of the least dashing actors in history have played Maigret. In 1958, Jean Gabin still exuded plenty of screen presence, but it had a jaded world-weary edge that still suited Georges Simenon’s famous detective. When a serial killer starts goading him, the Commissioner goads him right back in Jean Delannoy’s nifty film noir, Maigret Sets a Trap (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

A ripper-style killer stalking full-figured brunettes has half the Parisian force on the streets, but when they still do not reach his latest body quickly enough, he leaves a message for “Monsieur” Maigret via a police call box. That “Mr.” business really sticks in the Commissioner’s craw. Recognizing his quarry’s arrogance, Maigret recruits a small-time informer to play it up big when he is arrested for the killer’s murders. He then floods the Fourth Arrondissement with decoys drawn from the police clerical pool to draw out the real killer under the watchful eyes of their back-up units.

It very nearly works, but the killer manages to slip away. Yet, the circumstances of his escape may yet give him away. However, their biggest break comes through chance. Ordered to follow anyone suspicious watching Maigret’s media circus, Det. Lagrume tails a very out-of-place and well-to-do housewife to an assignation with a gigolo that she seems weirdly disinterested in. It is not much to go on, but when Maigret pays a visit to Madame Yvonne Maurin and her squirrely husband Jean, Marcel, he immediately starts giving the couple the Columbo treatment.

During the course of Maigret, viewers learn all about the 1950s network of police call boxes in Paris and get a tutoring in criminal psychology and the dangers of over-indulgent parenting. Like many great film noirs, it has a real vintage modern feel, as well as a bountiful helping of nocturnal Parisian ambiance. In fact, Maigret would pair up nicely with other classic French noirs, even including the granddaddy of them all, Rififi.

Gabin is a terrific Maigret pitching his flinty interpretation of the Commissioner somewhere between the larger-than-life Charles Laughton in The Man on the Eiffel Tower and the down-trodden Harry Baur in A Man’s Neck. For extra-added steeliness, Lino Ventura appears in the relatively minor role as Inspector Torrence, one of Maigret’s “Faithful Four.” Again, like the best noir crime dramas, Maigret is fully stocked with colorful supporting performances, including Olivier Hussenot as the nebbish Lagrume and Gérard Séty as the sleazy ladies’ man, Jojo Vacher.

Arguably, Delannoy’s adapted screenplay, co-written with Rodolphe-Maurice Arlaud and Michel Audiard, pushed the thematic envelope of its day with some surprisingly frank discussions of sexual hang-ups and psychological emasculation. Regardless, Maigret is a great deal of fun, but it really should be considered a procedural rather than a mystery, because we can tell the Commissioner is on the right track halfway through the second act. Very highly recommended, Maigret Sets a Trap opens this Friday (10/20) in New York, at the Metrograph.

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Margaret Mead ’17: Brasilia—Life After Design

Oscar Niemeyer was probably the only hardcore Communist who could claim he built a Catholic cathedral. He also designed a church in Belo Horizonte, but the Cathedral of Brasília ironically became one of his most recognizable works. For the atheist architect, it was more about location. He designed all the public buildings in Brasília, the utopian new capital city plopped down in the middle of the Brazilian desert in 1960. How livable do residents find a city born of ideological fervor fifty years after its founding? The answer is a decided “eh,” judging from the resident feedback recorded in Bart Simpson’s Brasília: Life After Design (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Brasília is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so case closed, right? Not so fast. Niemeyer’s monumental architecture is striking from afar, but living with it is a different matter. Indeed, you can see his Communist roots in those massive structures that dwarf individuals, like ants on a horizon. From an aerial view, the housing projects are appealingly geometrical, but they are rather drab up close.

Yet, according to residents’ complaints, it is Lúcio Costa’s urban planning that was particularly problematic. They claim the micro neighborhoods are effectively closed off and segregated, making social interaction difficult. Apparently, it is hard to meet people in Brasília, so many students and young professionals just while away the time roller-blading around the expansive public plazas.

It is a shame Bart Simpson (insert your own Simpsons joke here) never really challenges Niemeyer as an architect who built to intimidate or for his friendships with brutal dictators, including Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Instead, he offers us an immersive walking tour. Although this has the ostensive virtue of being nonjudgmental, is misleading in practice. The takeaway periodically peeking out of the doc is that Brasília is an impressive sight to gawk at as a visitor, but it has a wearying effect on residents.

Simpson tries to mix in several slice-of-life observational vignettes, but they do not exactly liven up the film. Frankly, viewers who just want to take in the architecture of Brasília would prefer the silent gaze of Heinz Emigholz’s commentary-free documentaries. The film is premised on a very insightful question—can average people live in someone else’s ideologically charged conception of utopia—but Simpson is rather lax at chasing down the answers, leaving the promise of the film unfulfilled. Anyone interested in architecture and Brazilian culture will leave Brasília: Life After Design wishing there was more to it when it screens this Saturday night (10/21), as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Margaret Mead ’17: Chomo (short)

Since the Dalai Lama and the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism were forced into exile, they have spread their wisdom and faith much wider around the world than would have otherwise been possible. It has also been a two-way exchange. In recent years, educational opportunities have expanded tremendously for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, at least for those living outside Tibet. The first class of nuns are poised to take the Geshema degrees following the requisite seventeen years of study. This is an especially significant milestone for a young nun contemplating her future in Maayan Arad’s short documentary Chomo (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Lobsang Chomo (“nun” in her local dialect) made the arduous journey to Dharamshala expressly so she would have educational opportunities that are not available in her native Tibet, where the Communist government insists it has the right to set policies for the religious faith. When we meet her, she has been studying in earnest for several years and has been recognized as one of her nunnery’s top doctrinal debaters. She is on track to sit for her Geshema exam (in a mere fourteen or fifteen years), but she will take time out to visit her family, now residing in a distant Northern India village, to reflect on her life choices so far.

The forty-two-minute Chomo is packed wall-to-wall with stunning visuals, but it is the charismatic Chomo who truly lights up the film. Even with her clean-shaven head, she is a stunning presence, but her wisdom and sense of humor are what really make her beautiful. Arad just quietly observes the daily goings-on at the nunnery and follows Chomo as she journeys through the wildly cinematic mountain passes on her way home. Yet, this film never feels hushed and airless like some In Great Silence-style documentaries. Instead, viewers always have the sense that a whole lot of life is happening.

We always knew Tibetan Buddhism offered more wisdom than its CP oppressors, but here is proof it is also more progressive. There might not be full parity yet, but some significant glass ceilings have been broken, quietly and philosophically. On a less optimistic note, the film also reminds us in passing of the arrest and conviction (on mystery charges) of Lobsang Jamyang, a Tibetan monk who wrote tracts advocating freedom of expression under the name Lomik. Nevertheless, Chomo is a positive, refreshingly life-affirming film. Very highly recommended, Chomo screens this Saturday (10/21) with Pixelating Holiness, as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Liberation Day: Back in the DPRK

During the early 1980s, the very name of the Slovenian industrial metal-avant-garde band Laibach was declared illegal by the Communist government. (It happened to be the German name of Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital.) You would therefore expect they would be the last rock band that would agree to perform in North Korea, one of the last remaining Communist regimes. Yet, they signed on for the unlikely gig, presumably because they appreciated both the irony and the potential publicity. As if Pyongyang were not surreal enough, the band infamous for their “satirical” crypto-fascist stylings came to rock the house, but satisfying the censors would be quite the adventure, duly documented in Ugis Olte & Morten Traavik’s Liberation Day (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York.

Perhaps, you are thinking: “wait, haven’t I heard this joke before?” Yes, Mads Brügger and his co-conspirators made the North Korean censors squirm with their proposed good will variety show,documented in Red Chapel. The difference is Laibach and show producer-co-director Traavik really wanted to stage a serious concert—so much so, they were willing to make numerous concessions to the censors and their minders.

Of course, reality frequently crashes their party, starting from day one, when a high-ranking apparatchik basically calls them fascist pigs at their welcoming banquet. They should have said takes one to know one, but instead Traavik claims the band is constantly misrepresented in the media, just like the peace-loving state of North Korea, so they therefore share a kinship.

The extent to which the band is willing to compromise their artistic integrity for the sake of the concert is frankly disappointing. Seriously, you guys used to give Tito the finger. Show some nihilistic contempt for authority. Frontline estimates one out of every one hundred North Koreans is a political prisoner and entire families--two generations in each direction--routinely condemned to concentration camps for one member's thought crimes. Yet, Laibach obediently minds their minders ignores this reality. That's not iconoclasm, its servility.

Still, you have to gawk at some of the spectacle, including Laibach performing their satanic-sounding Sound of Music covers, with the full approval of the censorship bureau. Apparently, the Julie Andrews movie is a staple of North Korean television, but good luck collecting those residuals.

There are some mind-blowing moments in Liberation that remind us how weird our world truly is. However, the absence of a Brügger-like figure and his constant ironic commentary and reality checks is keenly felt. Brügger took his crew to North Korea to subvert the totalitarian regime, whereas Traavik set out to capitalize off it. Big difference. Check out Red Chapel before you even think of watching Liberation (it streams on Amazon Prime). There is plenty of weird sights to behold, but ultimately Liberation Day is disappointingly well-behaved when it opens this Wednesday (10/18) in New York, at Film Forum.

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NYFF ’17: Amalric’s Music Films

What do Canadian Opera soprano Barbara Hannigan and Downtown multi-everything John Zorn have in common? Aside from the fact both have probably conducted ensembles playing in a broadly classical context (certainly true in her case), they both are known associates of French actor-director Matheiu Amalric and been the subjects of his short films. Usually they were largely unplanned. Amalric just had his camera running, suspecting something interesting would happen. His rapport with his subjects and their remarkable talent produced the three highly distinctive short documentaries that screened as a program at the 55th New York Film Festival.

Hannigan is the subject of C’est presque au bout du monde and Music is Music, which each clock in around twenty minutes and bookend the nearly hour-long John Zorn (2010-2017). Presque was an online commission for the Paris Opera, but seeing it on a theater screen instead of a little streaming window is an almost overwhelming experience.

When you are an artist of Hannigan’s caliber, you do not simply crack your knuckles and hit the high notes. You have to warm up your instrument, which in her case is her entire body. Amalric captured her warm-up process before several performances, which he and his editor Caroline Detournay assembled into a master-cut. To say this is a private process would be an understatement. Hannigan is incredibly exposed, captured often in a ritual that suggests auto-eroticism. Yet, when you watch it, viewers will feel an extraordinarily personal and protective attachment to her.

The Zorn film is something completely different, starting with the fact is not, strictly speaking, finished yet—and may never be. According to Amalric’s lively post-screening discussion, he and Detournay have already cut together more footage for the next installment, which is great news, because what he has so far is terrific.

Again, Amalric was commissioned to do a standard TV doc on Zorn, but apparently that went by the wayside. Instead, they became fast friends. Every time they crossed paths, Amalric filmed Zorn in performance, as well as his backstage comings and goings. In just fifty-four minutes, Amalric conveys the wide ranging stylistic diversity and virtuosity of Zorn’s work. We see him in a variety of settings, including a Downtown-style jazz ensemble (featuring Dave Douglas) and approvingly watching a string trio perform his chamber composition, “Freud.”

Yet, probably the greatest merit of the Zorn piece is the way it captures his sense of humor. I know several jazz musicians and most of them are very funny, because when you accept that kind of life, you have to have a sense of humor or you’ll soon be crying. In later sequences, Amalric and Detournay show Zorn listening appreciatively to other musicians sets, which is another decision that really pans out.

Similarly, viewers get a keen sense of how Hannigan relates to other musicians in Music is Music. For her latest CD, Crazy Girl Crazy, Hannigan chose a program of Alban Berg and George Gershwin that she performed as both featured vocalist and conductor. To make things even more interesting, the musicians of the Ludwig Orchestra would also perform the chorale arrangements, sort of like the flip-side of John Doyle’s Sondheim revivals. Initially, they are clearly uncomfortable in their new role, but Hannigan coaxes them out of their shells, which is lovely to watch. The way she makes connections between Berg and Gershwin is also fascinating. Frankly, it is just nice to see her expand the classical canon to include the Great American Songbook.

None of Amalric’s music films could be described as fannish, but they each can turn viewers into fans because they really get at the essence of their subjects. You feel like you have been backstage with them and then watched them perform from the wings. Very highly recommended, Music is Music is now available as an extra with Crazy Girl Crazy and John Zorn 2010-2017 will continue to expand and hopefully screen again at future NYFFs. Presque is also available online from the Paris Opera, but you won’t get the same overpowering impact that way.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Brooklyn Horror ’17: 1974

In the 1970s, consumer 8mm was largely for A-V geeks. Most of them were not aspiring indie filmmakers. Instead, they used the format to document milestones, like weddings, graduations, and demonic possessions. Manuel (a man-child toy-maker) wants to capture his early days in a new house with his newlywed wife Altair, but he records some disturbing events when she falls under the influence of a mysterious force. She claims to be communing with angels, but that seems highly unlikely throughout Victor Dryere’s Mexican found footage 1974 (trailer here), which screens tonight during the 2017 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

Dryere really did shoot 1974 in 8mm and his cast sure look like they’re wearing polyester. The early 1970’s details are spot on, except for the appearance of a Rubik’s Cube (accurately called a “Wonder Cube,” as it was known at the time, but it did not break out with consumers until the awesome 80s). Whatever, at least it helps reassure us what we’re watching really isn’t real.

Sure, there are a few weird little things happening here and there, but Manuel doesn’t worry about them until a load of bricks and black paint mysteriously arrives at their doorstep. To his surprise, Altair starts using them to build a black door in their bedroom, because “the angels told her to.” As she becomes increasingly spacey, even her standoffish sister Tere grows concerned. Manuel’s stoner pal Callahan even moves into to somehow help, but a fat lot of good he’ll do.

Of course, we know it ends badly from the in media res prologue, featuring the baffled TV news report of the aftermath. Frankly, this is one of the few found footage films in recent years that looks totally credible. So many Blair Witch copy-cats cheat and cut corners, but this really looks like freaky events in 1974 that were caught on a crummy consumer 8mm camera. If just about any viewer saw a film like this in 1998 (pre-Blair) they would be easily convinced it was legit—and deeply disturbed by it.

Granted, the ending is completely insane, but Dryere still comes close to earning it. Although it features some relatively established cast-members (such as Diana Bovio playing Altair), 1974 is not a star-making kind of film. Instead, they mostly do their duty to blend into the yucky 1970s milieu, while Dryere films them from odd angles and in unflattering light. The results are indeed pretty scary. Recommended for horror fans attracted by the ‘70s setting, 1974 screens tonight (10/15) at the Wythe Hotel, as part of this year’s Brooklyn Horror Film Festival.

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