A film festival is animated by an ethos ostensibly controlled by its programmers, but inevitably influenced by the city the festival calls home. So what drives the Los Angeles Film Festival, now in its 17th year? If there’s any place in the world that’s instantly associated with the movies, it’s Los Angeles, and yet the city lacks an agenda-setting festival like Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto. Perhaps it’s a testament to how thoroughly the Hollywood juggernaut dominates the agenda in every other sense. Nevertheless, Film Independent continues to foster a local festival culture with the LA Film Fest, showcasing a variety of emerging talents both domestic and international.
There are a number of intriguing threads running through the festival, and one of them is its strong focus on Latin American cinema. It’s undoubtedly influenced by the position of Los Angeles as an international hub, home to a diverse host of immigrant populations and so neighborly close to Mexico. A slate of films from Latin America runs the gamut from intensive political-structural critique to heartfelt personal drama.
As nine-year-old Cayetana de los Heros (Fatima Buntinx) is being driven home by her father, she sees something out in the darkness: a fiery hammer and sickle burning on a hillside. She asks her father what it is; he tells her it’s nothing, just burning trash. But we’re in Peru and it’s 1982, so we know that it’s another act of terror by the Shining Path, one of the belligerents in the country’s bloody decades-long internal conflict. Las Malas Intenciones, the feature debut of writer-director Rosario Garcia-Montero, uses the terrible violence as the backdrop for a darkly comic portrait of Cayetana’s morbid childhood.
Here, the invisible yet ever-present threat of death transmutes strangely in the mind of an upper-class child. Cayetana is bombarded with Joycean levels of Catholic guilt from a firebrand priest, she yearns for affection from her absentee womanizer of a father, and ironically enough, she’s obsessed with the centuries-old historic revolutionary heroes of South America’s past, as befitting her name. She even envisions entire imaginary adventures with them. When Cayetana finds out that her mother is pregnant, her neuroses all converge into the belief that she will die when her mother gives birth to the child.
Buntinx carries the film on her diminutive shoulders, and her performance treads a fine line: She captures the naïveté of a young girl’s flights of fancy while giving a window into her overweening, privileged narcissism, one that’s just a shade away from sociopathy. A recurring comic motif of Cayetana trying to care for small animals and failing miserably takes a disturbing turn as the film progresses.
In many ways, Las Malas Intenciones is a twisted counterpoint to the 2006 Julie Gavras film Blame It on Fidel; both track young girls growing up in unstable political circumstances. But while Gavras spins a humanist tale of how resilience and an open mind can help a person connect to the world, Garcia-Montero shows how a fortress mentality and stultifying privilege can warp a child. Cayetana is a lost, lonely girl watching the walls of her mansion compound rising higher and higher; she’s oblivious to the fact that she and her family are perhaps a bit reminiscent of the colonialists that her revolutionary heroes fought against.
But political acuity isn’t the film’s only strength. Throughout, Garcia-Montero maintains a firm control over the tone, keeping an ironic distance with pointed gallows humor yet managing to find sympathy for its troubled protagonist. Cayetana may be preoccupied with death and abandonment, and she hardly ever smiles; meanwhile, the hazy, washed-out color palette evokes the paranoid decay of 1980s Peru. But even with all that, the film never feels dour or lifeless. It’s a nuanced portrait of childhood, clear-eyed yet sympathetic.
He rolls up to the cemetery every night in his beat-up blue Chevy truck, greeted by his pair of black dogs. He has a salt-and-pepper beard and a weary expression—a quiet man, as befitting his solitary occupation. His name is Martin, the titular character in Natalia Almada’s documentary El Velador. Martin tends to a cemetery in the city of Culiacán in Sinaloa, a major hub for Mexican drug trafficking. As such, the small city of mausoleums that Martin looks over—in a wide variety of clashing styles unified only by the fact they’re all extravagant—is home to a legion of people who were most likely involved one way or another in drug trafficking and the drug war.
A young widow seems to come to the cemetery every day with her daughter to tend to her husband’s mausoleum. She goes through the same ritual: cleaning the glass doors, tending to the flowers, washing the staircase that leads up to the second story. We see her husband in photos wearing a police uniform, leaving the lingering question of how one affords such a grandiose structure on a policeman’s salary.
Almada’s style is quiet and observational and reserved, Direct Cinema in the purest sense. She sits back and watches the machinery of life that unfolds around her and the miniature community that builds up around death. There are the small gangs of construction workers building the mausoleums and the flower sellers with their elaborate and expensive displays. There are fruit vendors and funeral bands—an entire economy that springs from the residue of drug trafficking.
But we always come back to Martin the watchman, rolling in like clockwork. The film captures the quiet rhythm of day journeying past nightfall; even in the day there are long stretches of wordless action, but night is defined by its distinct solitude. There are no interviews, and the brief moments in which Martin speaks feel less directed to us and more the voicing of internal reflections. The chattiest of voices comes from Martin’s television, often tuned to the news that’s reporting on some distant moment of violence that might very well find its endpoint under Martin’s watch. It’s through these outlets that we sense Almada’s authorial hand working on the film, noting that her country is undergoing an agonizing paroxysm of drug violence. But the cemetery under Martin’s charge, so intimately connected to that violence, is nevertheless a bubble of isolation. Perhaps we hear gunshots in the distance, but here there is only quiet.
The story told in the opening moments of the documentary 108 is structured like a whodunit: In Paraguay’s capital of Asunción, Rodolfo Costa was found dead and naked on the floor, his closets empty. He had an alias, Hector Torres, and his bank account contained a small, unexplained fortune. But what interests Renate Costa, niece of Rodolfo and director of the film, is not so much the circumstances of the man’s death, but of his life. Costa uses her uncle as a way into exploring the weight of oppression and silence that lingers not only in her family, but in Paraguayan society, which through Costa’s lens still labors under the mentality of a police state.
Costa was a gay man under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda, which brutally persecuted gays; the 108 refers to the number of names on the first of many infamous “homosexuals lists,” a number which has become a slur and effacement. Costa shows us that the number has become so charged that many rooms in Asunción hotels go from 107 to 109. Even after the transition to democracy and end of official persecution, the homophobic legacy remains, personified in Renate’s father Pedro. The man is utterly sincere in his Catholic condescension, telling us he truly believes he was protecting and saving his brother when they were younger by beating up his gay friends.
Costa’s conversations with her father form one strand of the story, as they embark on father-daughter fishing trips and kite flights that seem quite sad in the muddy pixelated twilight captured by her camera. They’re interspersed with debates that always end up with a father citing dogma and a daughter reluctant to engage, a wall of silence rising up between the two.
The other strand of the film comes as Costa finds the list of names that her uncle was on and she tries to speak to the people who were part of his shadow life, the ones who knew him as Hector Torres. They tell their own stories of marginalization and persecution, and even in the present, some of them want to remain in the shadows. They know that Costa’s father speaks the truth in saying there is a difference between politics and mentality. One may have changed, but the other hasn’t. Yet when presented with the list of names, these compatriots of Rodolfo’s ask for copies; to them it’s a badge of courage, of having made it through the worst.
Even though Costa’s film delves deep into the political psychology of a police state (the homosexual roundups often came as a response to and distraction from brutal crimes, for they served as convenient scapegoats), her story is ultimately a personal one. She knows that she’s a character, however peripheral, in a family drama, and she structures and shoots the piece to accentuate that. She examines old photographs and films of her uncle, trying to deconstruct the front the man put up to survive. She tries to connect to her father, to unpack the enigma through the bonds of family. But they always hit an impasse. One moment is emblematic of the father-daughter relationship: They sit across from each other, without making eye contact, and their silence stretches for what seems like an eternity until Renate breaks it with a simple observation (“It’s so hard to talk to you”).
Anayansi Prado’s documentary Paraiso for Sale is a study in ecology, where a seemingly pristine environment is altered by one wave of migration after another. The islands of Bocas del Toro off the coast of Panama have become a haven for American retirees: a tropical paradise where they can leverage the power of the U.S. dollar. It’s telling when one of the retirees says they can’t afford to get sick in America anymore. The film is a master class in structure that takes Bocas del Toro and lenses it through different strata: the native resident Feliciano fighting for indigenous rights to the land, the political hopeful Dario running for mayor on a platform of resisting transnational exploitation, and the American expatriates Karan and Willy, who’ve made their retirement home in the province.
Karan’s part of the early wave of residential tourists, people who’ve come to build homes and want to integrate with and contribute to the local community. But all their lives are affected by the influx of massive foreign developers, who have been lured in by tales of tropical paradise and have wrought economic and political disruption in a formerly unassuming community.
It’s a complex issue, but Prado makes it accessible by finding and clinging to relatable characters that tell the story through their actions. Town hall meetings not only provide flashpoints for conflict but help the audience digest the issue at hand. Its structural and systematic approach recalls the best elements of investigative journalism in showing how the pieces all fit together and how they all matter.
The ecological lens used on Bocas del Toro makes for a compelling narrative, showing the islands in the middle of a process that has happened elsewhere: Developers pump millions of dollars into construction, causing an initial boost in the economy, but eventually traditional agriculture, fishing, and small-scale tourism become impossible, leaving only menial service jobs for locals mostly driven out by skyrocketing land prices. Prado takes us through each link in the chain; the contrast between the pristine beaches captured by her camera and the ungainly behemoth of a marina in a developer’s trade-show advertisement might be funny, except as one of the activists in the film points out, it’s against Panamanian law to advertise developments not yet approved by the local community.
And yet we’re left with the doubt that the laws can be enforced, as Prado sketches a portrait of a government overwhelmed by forces that can win by merely spending enough money. Feliciano is stonewalled in his attempts to safeguard the rights to his land, and yet when his protests block the roads, he seems to be met with immediate police response. Dario finds that voter registration is arduous when local offices are understaffed, and even Karan is exhausted by legal battles in trying to defend her own land claims from developers.
The structural conflict is compelling because Prado never loses sight of the human level of action. She finds humor in the midst of urgent situations, as when Dario finds out that one of his supporters hasn’t voted because he’s busy watching The Simpsons—the most delicious example of a foreign juggernaut eroding the foundations of civic stability if there ever was one.
After Fidel Castro’s ascendancy in 1959, the entire island of Cuba was swept up in a wave of revolutionary ardor: For those Cubans who didn’t see the revolution as the end of the world, it was a new beginning where anything seemed possible and sheer idealism could will a new nation into existence. This idea was given form in the five ambitious Schools of Art commissioned by Castro and Che Guevara in 1961. Unfinished Spaces, a documentary by Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray, traces that idealism as literally embodied in the design of the schools: grand and sprawling structures designed by renowned architects Roberto Gottardi, Ricardo Porro, and Vittorio Garratti. However, the ardor quickly cooled and the Castro regime became plagued with paranoia and dogmatism. Some schools were never finished and all were left to the mercy of nature and the elements.
Using a mix of archival footage and images along with interviews with the architects and present-day exploration, the film traces a line from the schools’ inception to their current status. Even as construction was underway and eventually abandoned, classes were being held and students were living onsite. Present-day scenes of student musicians playing in the middle of overgrown brick skeletons that recall ancient ruins are some of the most haunting moments of the film.
The most successful tactic Nahmias and Murray undertake is the subtle, syntactical way they form parallels from the physical structures of the school to the way the schools as institutions are run, all the way to the health of Cuban civil society at large. In the film’s sweeping vision, the Cuban Schools of Art are a grand metaphor for the whole country. Built on top of nationalized land that used to be an exclusive golf course, the schools were, in architecture and ideals, the vanguard navigating new frontiers. (Much is made of Porro designing the School of Plastic Arts to resemble the body of a fertility goddess, provoking minor scandal.) But pressure for the schools to hew closer to their Soviet benefactors’ ethos stifles their ambition; we see images of military-style discipline imposed upon freewheeling arts students. The buildings themselves certainly did not conform to the new dogma, and the trio of architects were driven to exile or marginalized in their field before their work could even be completed.
The film doesn’t try to hide its advocacy, but it makes a convincing argument with its exquisitely photographed exploration of the schools in shambles being absorbed by the encroaching wilderness. Nahmias and Murray tell the story of an attempt to establish an artistic Eden, and the eventual expulsion from that paradise hits with the weight of biblical inevitability. It’s such a shocking jump from the beautiful abstraction of the architects’ designs to the reality of the present, with the detritus of squatters and roaming wild dogs. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the tragedy of loss and hope for rebirth when everyone involved speaks with such great passion—even Castro himself, who is called to task in a press conference. He displays such conflicted emotion while delivering a speech that’s either the resurgence of forgotten idealism or its gurgling death throes.
Written and directed by Argentine filmmaker Gustavo Taretto, Medianeras is less burdened by the questions of politics and history than the other Latin American offerings. But it can’t fully escape that context, as when Mariana (Pilar López de Ayala) tells us the story of how the Kavanagh Building in Buenos Aires came to be: The impressive skyscraper was a spite-fueled project by Corina Kavanagh to obstruct the sight line of an aristocratic family who had spurned her daughter.
That’s just one of the architectural observations made by Mariana and Martin (Javier Drolas), who would both agree with Unfinished Spaces that the architecture of a city reveals something about the soul of its people; so what does it say that both of these denizens of contemporary Buenos Aires are hyper-intellectual and hopelessly neurotic? They’re also both young and attractive, making for a perfect romantic comedy couple—but Taretto replaces the typical romantic comedy dilemma of “What ridiculous obstacle can we throw in the way of two people who should obviously get together?” with the very real obstacle of the two people never actually meeting.
Mariana studied architecture but works as a shop window dresser; Martin works as a Web designer. She has a phobia of elevators and obsesses over a Where’s Waldo? puzzle; he has a meticulously prepared backpack, which includes a collection of Tati films, in case of panic attacks. They both live in cramped shoebox apartments on the same street, and the film is a chronicle of their near misses (enough for a whole page of Missed Connections) as they deal with their own separate romantic misfortunes.
In lesser hands this material would be a deathtrap: Again, it’s a romantic comedy where the leads are kept apart by cinematic fiat, and the conceit that two people are soul mates because they both cry when they watch Manhattan and sing along to Daniel Johnston songs could edge toward twee. But the final result is incredibly strong: López de Ayala and Drolas are so charismatic—and Taretto is so skilled with interpolation and juxtaposition—that they somehow mange to conjure chemistry in the space between Mariana and Martin in a process resembling quantum entanglement.
Each is having a cosmic conversation with the other without even knowing it, and there’s an absence in each of their lives that crackles with electricity whenever Taretto makes a judicious cut for comedic or thematic punctuation. In an egregious display of cinematic virtuosity, there’s a scene involving a mannequin that manages to be erotic, hilarious, and poignant all at once. The scene perfectly encapsulates Medianeras: It’s a reflection on urban loneliness, with two people trying to break through the architecture of their city and of their lives in order to find someone they didn’t know they were looking for.
Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch
There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.
“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.
The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”
Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.
There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”
The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.
The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.
There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”
And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.
In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.
This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”
John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.
Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins
9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution
At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani
8. Game Review: Far Cry 5
With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark
7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked
It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
6. Film Review: Aquaman
The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown
5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife
4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War
What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich
3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis
2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson
1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife
Top 10 Radiohead Music Videos
To celebrate Radiohead’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at the group’s best and most innovative music videos.
Twenty-five years ago, the world was introduced to Radiohead by way of their debut single, “Creep.” Thom Yorke and company may have soured to their very first modern rock hit, but as we said in our list of the Best Singles of the 1990s, for which the song ranked at #37, “Creep” is rivaled only by “Every Breath You Take” as the ultimate kind-of-obsessive/kind-of-romantic crush anthem, with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s perfectly timed blasts of electricity turning it from slightly creepy to threatening. The track peaked on the Billboard pop chart in September of 1993, a full year after its initial release, and Radiohead would go on to become one of the most influential bands in rock history. To celebrate the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at their best and most innovative music videos.
Editors’ Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2013.
10. “Burn the Witch” (Dir: David Mould). “Stand in the shadows/To the gallows/This is a round-up,” Thom Yorke cautions at the start of “Burn the Witch,” with all the paranoia and politically shaded intrigue we’ve come to expect from the Radiohead frontman. Directed by Chris Hopewell, the music video for the track depicts a government official sent to inspect the strange goings-on in a small village, where he’s burned alive in a giant wooden statue in a scene reminiscent of the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. The clip features stop-motion animation in the style of the 1960s-era U.K. children’s show Trumpton. Sal Cinquemani
9. “Paranoid Android” (Dir: Magnus Carlsson). Radiohead commissioned Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson for this bizarre and somewhat graphic video, which sees the titular protagonist of Carlsson’s series Robin encountering various unsavory or unearthly characters, including a prostitute in a tree, a deranged businessman, and an angel flying a helicopter. Cinquemani
8. “House of Cards” (Dir: James Frost). When the “House of Cards” video came out, it struck me as a tech geek’s gimmick, but in retrospect, its motion-capture technique is used for deeply human ends. First we see two faces in close-up, their physicality rendered as blue-ish data points. Then, indistinct bodies at a party and a whole suburban landscape being wiped away in Etch-A-Sketch fashion. It’s a kind of digitally envisioned nightmare: Every pixel of everything we know, instantly erased. Paul Rice
7. “No Surprises” (Dir: Grant Lee). Lo-fi simplicity tends to work best for Radiohead’s live-action videos. In “No Surprises,” we get to watch Thom Yorke gasp for breath as a water chamber fills and releases around his head. It’s a sly sadomasochistic dream that could be his, or that of plenty of Radiohead haters everywhere. Rice
6. “Daydreaming” (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson). In this video for 2016’s “Daydreaming,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera follows Thom Yorke through numerous locales, from hotel hallways to laundromats. The images, lucid and confrontational, exude an almost gestural quality as they cut from interior and exterior spaces, with Yorke waltzing in a sleep-like torpor toward a hole—or spacious studio igloo?—somewhere on a snow-capped mountain. The world here appears at once real and imagined, and by the time the fire within the hole lights Yorke’s face and the song grinds to a halt, Anderson dramatically reaffirms most of our beliefs about Radiohead’s music as, above all else, the prettiest soundtrack in the world to one man’s devotion to his own alienation. Ed Gonzalez
5. “Just” (Dir: Jamie Thraves). There’s a Kafkaesque absurdity to the simple concept of “Just” that gets and stays under the skin. A man lies down in the middle of a monochromatic city sidewalk. People trip on him and ask how he is and why he’s there. Finally, he tells the crowd (though we never know, since the subtitles cut out), and they all lie with him, presumably in conjoined doom. Rice
4. “Knives Out” (Dir: Michel Gondry). Thematically evocative of the director’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the elaborate, seemingly single-take “Knives Out” juxtaposes emotional and physical hardship via Michel Gondry’s signature surreal imagery, including singer Thom Yorke’s head replaced by a giant heart in which he stores a Polaroid photograph of his fiancée, whose critical condition he may very well have been responsible for. Cinquemani
3. “Pyramid Song” (Dir: Shynola). Thom Yorke and company have long been champions of animation, and “Pyramid Song” is their best, most heartfelt work in the form. A man—or a thing (the figure could be human or beast)—dives into a lost civilization, wading through bones to a home where he watches TV. CG allows for meticulous detail, but the gorgeous design by artist collective Shynola is purposely murky, full of unknown layers, and like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, released the same year, it suggests a ruined past we can never get back. Rice
2. “Fake Plastic Trees” (Dir: Jake Scott). Jake Scott, noted music video director and son of Sir Ridley, has said that his striking clip for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” filmed in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California, is an allegory on death and reincarnation. His claim is borne out by images of colorful characters, old and young, strolling the aisles of a neon-lit supermarket, being watched on surveillance cameras, and eventually carted off to a heavenly looking “exit.” Cinquemani
1. “Karma Police” (Dir: Jonathan Glazer). Director Jonathan Glazer claims that this creepy revenge clip, in which a car slowly follows a man running down a desolate road only to have the tables turned thanks to a chance gasoline leak, was inspired by a bad dream. His remarkable use of point of view implicates the spectator in the video’s action, but it’s the spooky way with which he fashions a Möbius strip from karmic irony that makes “Karma Police” Radiohead’s finest contribution to the music-video medium. Cinquemani