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Outer Limits, Dead End: Medium Cool

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Outer Limits, Dead End: Medium Cool

If any movie aspires to capture What It All Meant, you can’t get much more assertive than Medium Cool, which tried to sum up the Summer of ’68 in Chicago less than a year after it occurred. This has to be some kind of response-time record: we couldn’t get 9/11 going on-screen ’til about three years later. The reason, of course, was that Haskell Wexler had heard—like anyone else with half an ear to the ground—that the Democratic convention would probably blow up in a big way, and shot his climactic footage accordingly (the opening title complements, reading “Chicago, 1968” over the sound of a siren). Forty years later, Medium Cool seems like one of the most ambivalent political films ever, which is both good and bad.

Good, because this is the opposite of, say, the shrill if compelling hysteria of Peter Watkins’ 1971 Punishment Park. In that film, the gagging of Bobby Seale—one of the Chicago 8, tried by the clearly nuts and power-abusing Judge Julius Hoffman—is taken not as the fairly unprecedented bad decision of one old-guard judge, but the logical, systematic endgame of a soon-to-be openly fascistic judicial system. Medium Cool is far more tenuous in its commitments—its protagonist basically disappears halfway through, large portions of the film are given over to outside voices simply to speak, and the climactic death doesn’t result from police brutality (which is relatively light on-screen—you’d never get a true sense of the convention’s police beatings if this was all you knew), but an arbitrary narrative decision.

Bad because Medium Cool is its title—pretty interesting, but never fully impassioned. (Alternate title: Lukewarm.) At times, it seems like a DP’s demo reel—which it is, in a way. Wexler’s first narrative feature as a director is full of gorgeous images that frequently have nothing to do with each other, visually or thematically: rural pastoral shots in the golden sun; a frantic chase through a spacious apartment as nude Robert Forster chases his girlfriend and a bird flies through the air; another chase through a parking lot, the (apparent) zoom lens flattening all the cars, removing all depth, and rendering the chase an exercise in stark geometry. Aside from that, it’s mostly Forster’s solipsism, the mandatory late-‘60s tripped-out warehouse party sequence… and documentary footage. Lots and lots of documentary footage.

Medium Cool’s much-vaunted verisimilitude doesn’t strike me as a big deal, partly because the seams show in a big way. Some examples: late in the film, Verna Bloom is searching for her son among the tumult. She walks up to cops holding back protesters from going further, whispers something, and gets by. Presumably her character says, “I’m searching for my son,” but it’s all too transparent that she’s explaining her status with the film, the people with her, and so on. The far more infamous example, of course, is the late film yell, “Look out Haskell, it’s real!” Aside from the fact that not everything that’s true should be included… well, it’s not real. Dubbed in after the fact, the cry is, I gather, supposed to shatter the boundaries between participant, documenter, and spectator—shattering the complacency of those watching after the fact, calling into question what it means just to watch and cluck your tongue (as the correctly cynical newspeople say at the beginning of the film, evening news viewers want to watch for 20 seconds, say “isn’t that terrible?”, and then turn to dinner) as opposed to participating, all that good stuff. Plus, all the boundary-fucking post-modernism you could want—uneasy divides between what the viewer knows is going on behind the camera and distanced quote marks around the on-screen narrative, etc.

As a twentysomething, I’m pretty much automatically allergic to Class of ’68 “we changed the world” self-congratulation (Stephanie Zacharek got the tone exactly right in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, reviewing a tome about Carly Simon/Joni Mitchell/Carole King: “Weller’s dedication … reads: ’To the women of the 1960s generation. (Were we not the best?)’…If…the nakedly self-congratulatory quality of that dedication makes you want to play a record by the Slits or Hole or Sleater-Kinney, really loud, you may be in a different category, or just a different age group—not the ’best’ one.”).

So the weird thing about Medium Cool? As a time capsule unsure of what it wants to say—besides giving a voice to everyone not represented in the media, as in the fascinating monologues from mildly militant black activists—it’s muddled, yet fascinating political fare. But the real smugness is in the aesthetics, in the conviction that Wexler’s solved the problem of the narrative once and for all (or realized it can’t be solved, which is the same thing in certain strands of French theory anyway), and reached the outer limits of the fucking thing. He hadn’t; like Easy Rider, what once looked like the outer limits now looks like a dead end.

Vadim Rizov is a New York-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Reeler, Nerve, and, oddly enough, Salt Lake City Weekly.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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