One of the many residual effects of the massive success of the Star Wars trilogy was the boom of fantasy films that arrived in theaters in the mid-1980s. Movies such as Legend, Masters of the Universe, The NeverEnding Story, The Princess Bride, and others were all released within the span of a couple of years, and each to some degree featured sprawling sets, evocative atmospheres, and extensive use of prosthetics and puppets. These elements were staples of George Lucasâs storytelling, a quality that proved to be a strong companion to the Star Wars filmsâ grand visual and narrative design. It wasnât long after the trilogy had wrapped that even Lucas himself had dipped into the bankable commercial lore of fantasy moviemaking when he produced Jim Hensonâs 1986 film Labyrinth. His own contribution to the subgenre followed two years later at a time when fantasy appeared on the decline. With an original story by Lucas, Willow was met with widespread ambivalence upon its release. Retrospectively, however, the filmâs graceless hybrid of Star Wars-style mythmaking and leftovers from the short-lived fantasy period in commercial cinema that Lucas inspired offers a pointed reflection and portrait of the filmmaker that has grown more compelling as the full trajectory of Lucasâs career has emerged in view.
Of course, Lucas didnât direct Willow (weâll get to that later), but the film bears his authorial stamp almost immediately at the outset. In fact, you donât even need to see the trademark Lucasfilm logo to sense the filmmakerâs touch. The setting and storytelling influences may diverge from those of Star Wars, but the same propensity for merging age-old legends is evident. Instead of drawing from Joseph Campbell and Akira Kurosawa, Lucas and screenwriter Bob Dolman fold elements of the Grimm brothers and J.R.R. Tolkien into a nakedly bibilical framework. Take the prologue: Willow opens on the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), who orders the slaughter of all newborns for fear of a prophecy predicting the usurping of her power. But the blatant bibilical allusion doesnât end there. Lucas and Dolman also add a dash of Moses for good measure, when a baby born in secret is placed into a basket and floated down a river. Then, after the baby is discovered by Hobbit-esque folk called Nelwyns, Willow shifts into Star Wars mode, slowing down to allow the larger world to develop.
wThe structural resemblances to Star Wars thicken as the plot develops, particularly in the department of character dynamics. For example, after the title character (Warwick Davis) resigns himself to protecting the baby, he meets the wise-cracking Han Solo-esque Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a man who proves his value in a fight, but whose loyalties are in question. Other Star Wars touches abound, from the sidekick duo (half of which is played by a young Kevin Pollak) standing in for C-3P0 and R2-D2 to the sub-villain General Kael (i.e., Darth Skeletor), who inexplicably dons a black cape and skull mask while marching around looking intimidating despite not accomplishing much of anything. (To be fair though, Darth Vader didnât do very much in the original Star Wars either.)
All of this would otherwise be acceptable if Willow carried off a modicum of Star Warsâs charms. Outside of the earnest and grounding turn by Davis, however, the characters and accompanying performances are uniformly maladroit, particularly Kilmerâs bumbling warrior. Beyond the scope of characterization, the film exhibits a nearly complete absence of rhythm, both within individual scenes and as a whole. That grating quality comes courtesy of director Ron Howard, who has an eye for elegant visuals, but lacks the sense of movement and pacing from shot to shot and scene to scene thatâs so integral to allowing a story as absurd as this to dig in and embed itself on the imagination.
The film is better off working from the straight fantasy mode rather than emulating Star Wars. It showcases technical bravura in the form of meticulously crafted special effects (such as the two-headed dragon that appears during the filmâs high point) and a lush James Horner score. Willow is also notable for its charming early scenes starring dozens of little people. But these highlights only underline the filmâs fundamental faults. With each shapeless chase and action set piece that ensues, the sheer misjudgment of the attempt to fashion Star Wars in a new package becomes more obvious and aggressively overshadows Davisâs strong lead performance and the production polish of the fantasy elements.
Given the directorial deficiencies on display, it would be easy to pin Willowâs broader failures on Howard. But the real blame falls on Lucas, who was known for unmistakable attention to detail, but instead seemed satisfied offering up a shoddy replica of a proven formula in the most convenient narrative scenario. Willow spelled the end of a fad that Lucas helped initiate, and it was just the beginning of the public criticism that Lucas received in the years to follow. He has earned harsh criticism for selling out on good storytelling in place of toy sales and finding new ways to package his older works to maximize profits. Astute filmgoers claim evidence of these developments in Return of the Jedi, but a more apt summation of Lucasâs shifting priorities is Willow, a cold calculation of a film that isnât so much a signal of a filmmakerâs waning touch as waning interest.
I donât doubt that Lucas believes in his stories. His Star Wars prequel trilogy is, after all, an expensive display of a man cocooned from outside voices. But those films also conveyed the wistful sensibility of an artist trying almost desperately to rekindle the passion that enabled him to build a commercial empire that eventually detached him from that very passion. But if the prequel trilogy represents Lucasâs self-conscious attempt to recapture the days before he transitioned from artist to mogul, then Willow is the tragic statement of a mogul who had us all think that he was still an artist.
Ted Pigeon is author of the blog The Cinematic Art. He also contributed to the Cinephilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction: Film, Pleasure and Digital Culture, Vol. 2.
Review: Tigers Are Not Afraid Wrings Preciousness from a Drug Warâs Carnage
It never resolves its commingling of the fanciful and the mundane into a particularly coherent argument about the legacy of trauma.2
Writer-director Issa LĂłpezâs Tigers Are Not Afraid is a tapestry of flourishes. All are inseparable from Mexicoâs gangland carnage, but its most memorable one is also rooted in magical-realist tradition, namely 100 Years of Solitude. The novel tells the multi-generational story of the BuendĂa family, and in one particularly exacting and vivid passage, master fabulist Gabriel GarcĂa MĂĄrquez details how the seemingly eternal Ursula IguarĂĄn learns of her son JosĂ© Arcadioâs death after a trickle of blood from his body winds its way through war-torn Macondo, around corners, across terraces, down steps, and over curbs, before finally arriving at his motherâs doorstep. âHoly mother of God,â she says.
Ursula comprehends the truth of that thread of blood even before it leads her back to her sonâs body. By contrast, the protagonist of Tigers Are Not Afraid, Estrella (Paola Lara), prevaricates so as to put distance between herself and the horrors around her. âWe forget who we are, when the things from outside come to get us,â she says in voiceover at the start of the film. She doesnât see the line of blood that runs from a dead manâs head and follows her all the way home until itâs already tracing a path across her living room floor and up a wall, finally creating the shape of an insect on a dress that hangs from the ceiling. Estrellaâs mother is missing, and in this moment, the girl seems to know that sheâs being sent a message, which she wonât learn to decipher until she becomes more fluent in the language of fairy tales.
At its most assured, Tigers Are Not Afraid strikingly literalizes the idea of the ties that bind, suggesting how the living and the dead walk hand in hand, almost as a matter of course, in a modern-day Mexico where 160,000 have been killed and 53,000 have disappeared since the beginning of the drug war in 2006. Before Estrella stumbles upon the aforementioned dead manâs body, you get the sense that today isnât the first time sheâs seen boys use police tape as limbo sticks, or dragged her fingers across walls riddled with bullet holes. Which isnât to say that the girl is desensitized to this violence. She seems to almost exist at a remove from it, and LĂłpez sensitively syncs the swaying of her camera to the girlâs visible numbness.
That sensitivity, however, proves to be a kind of redundancy. Throughout Tigers Are Not Afraid, LĂłpez effectively conjures an aura of ordinariness, but she never resolves her commingling of the fanciful and the mundane into a particularly coherent argument about the legacy of trauma. The film concerns Estrella and a group of orphaned boys going head to head with a cartel after young El Shine (Juan RamĂłn LĂłpez) swipes a gun and phone from the treacherous El Chino (Tenoch Huerta), and when that narrative isnât picking up signals from the supernatural realm, you sense its allegiance to so many films indebted to the neorealist tradition, from Luis BuĂ±uelâs Los Olvidados to HĂ©ctor Babencoâs Pixote. Tigers Are Not Afraid is alive to the harsh reality of its main charactersâ lives, though at times it feels as if LĂłpezâs only means of accessing that truth is by conspicuously shaking her camera.
As for the filmâs supernatural flourishes, none are as inspired as that thread of blood that trails Estrella at various points. Little flying creatures suggest visitors from Guillermo del Toroâs cabinet of curiosities, while a gathering of ghosts inside an expansive, derelict building brings to mind a Silent Hill freak-out. And in the case of the tiger graffiti on a wall that comes to life at one point, there isnât even the sense that weâre watching the deadâs handiwork. After a while, deathâs intrusions come to feel more cosmetic than substantial.
Early in the film, LĂłpez fascinatingly suggests that Estrellaâs perception of the world, after a teacher grants her three wishes, is both shield and sword. But after the girl uses one of those wishes to commit an act of brutality, the filmâs fairy-tale conceit reveals itself as an engine for easy absolution. By the time the girl arrives at an understanding of her world that isnât too far removed from the logic of her opening voiceover, Tigers Are Not Afraid has so given itself over to feeling the innocence of cocooning that it only effectively haunts us with its preciousness.
Cast: Paola Lara, Juan RamĂłn LĂłpez, Hanssel Casillas, Tenoch Huerta, Nery Arredondo, Rodrigo Cortes, Ianis Guerrero Director: Issa LĂłpez Screenwriter: Issa LĂłpez Distributor: Shudder Running Time: 83 min Rating: NR Year: 2017
Review: Whereâd You Go, Bernadette Serves Up Lifetime-Grade Chestnuts of Wisdom
The film is a curiously anodyne affair that proposes the distinctly unenlightening idea that the medicine against despair is just a little R&R.1.5
The opening passages of Whereâd You Go, Bernadette include a handful of scenes in which an agoraphobic architect and mother, Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett), restlessly expresses her internal thoughts inside the empty rooms of her Seattle mansion. Observed in flowing Steadicam shots, these soliloquiesârecorded and translated to text by Manjula, the digital assistant on Bernadetteâs smartphoneâgive space to reflect on how the womanâs eclectic furnishings grow out of her racing mental landscape. And in performing them, Blanchett offers the rare cinematic spectacle of a mother in her alone time, compelled to let her imagination and anxieties loose outside the pressures of maternal duty. In these moments, the film, an unapologetically straightforward adaptation of Maria Sempleâs best-selling novel, briefly takes on the tone of something candidly personal.
Itâs a shame, then, that Whereâd You Go, Bernadette is cloyingly beholden to the demands of its crowd-pleasing narrative arcâthat of a creative woman driven to ennui by motherhood and middle age yet rescued from the brink by an inspiring vacation and the love of her family. Itâs nice, reassuring stuff, not false by any standard, but told with such didacticism and cuteness that one canât help but be bewildered by the fact that the film was co-written and directed by Richard Linklater. Where the Texas auteurâs leisurely paced Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!! excel in their attention to the nuanced spectacle of characters changing over time, Whereâd You Go, Bernadette plays like all of its air has been sucked out in the interest of plot progression, which it conducts with the workshopped efficiency of a television movie mindful of commercial breaks. In fact, with its coverage-dependent mise-en-scĂšne, off-the-rack musical score, and tacked-on bookending voiceovers, Linklaterâs latest feels strangely close to something Lifetime might have churned out in the early aughts.
The film establishes its narrative conflicts quickly and bluntly, often through dialogue, simple juxtaposition, and, in one particularly dull case, a YouTube mini-documentary about Bernadette that plays in full in order to clarify her backstory. A brilliant and influential architect in the midst of a long hiatus after a demoralizing relocation and a series of miscarriages, she displaces her creative frustration on her city and its inhabitants, including her prosperous, TED Talks-giving husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup); stuffy neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig); and Soo-Lin (Zoe Chao), a gossipy associate of Elgie and friend of Audrey. Her only routine source of joy is her wise-beyond-her-years daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson), who loves her unconditionally and whom she treats perhaps a bit too much like a peer.
Symptomatic of Linklaterâs always-generous worldview, the film sees Bernadetteâs quirks not as deficiencies, but as inevitable side effects of lifeâs persistent curveballs. When the character refers to herself as a âcreative problem solver with good taste and a soft spot for logistical nightmares,â itâs clear that the filmmaker endorses that assessment, and perhaps even recognizes it as a description of his own artistic career. For all their suspicion toward Bernadette, Elgie and Audrey arenât characterized entirely negatively either, for each is given a path to redemption, and Wiigâs portrayal of her characterâs transition from belligerence to empathy in particular is one of the highpoints of Whereâd You Go, Bernadette.
Rather, in true boomer fashion, Linklater reserves his cynicism for technology, kickstarting the filmâs third act with the contrived revelation that Manjula is actually a Russian-operated phishing scheme seeking to steal Bernadetteâs identity. This development briefly gets a Department of Homeland Security agent, Marcus Strang (James Urbaniak), and a therapist, Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer), caught up in the narrative, but itâs all really just a busy preamble to the Antarctica family vacation thatâs hinted at from the very first scene. Bernadette has her reservations about the trip, Bee thinks it will be cathartic for the family, Elgie is too preoccupied with his career to concern himself with the logistics, and the shadowy forces behind Manjula are poised to swoop in and cause chaos during the scheduled dates.
What ends up happening is neither the transporting escape Bee wants nor the complete disaster Manjula intends to enact, but something messily in between that triggers a coordinated stream of life lessonsâand a few uninspired drone shots of icebergs. Indeed, in its eagerness to diagnose Bernadetteâs existential impasse, the film lays on thick the kind of back-patting chestnuts of wisdom that have become increasingly common in Linklaterâs recent films, groaners like âPopularity is overratedâ and âYou donât have to do anything you donât wanna do.â Such sentiments have always been window dressing in Linklaterâs nonchalantly libertarian body of work, but if in many cases his films have tacitly acknowledged the limits of language to articulate lifeâs mysteries, here thereâs very little sense of a frontier to be explored. If Bernadette is Linklater and Blanchettâs collaborative expression of the right balance between parenting and artistry, itâs a curiously anodyne affair that proposes the distinctly unenlighteningâand privilegedâidea that the medicine against despair is just a little R&R.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Emma Nelson, Zoe Chao, James Urbaniak, Judy Greer Director: Richard Linklater Screenwriter: Richard Linklater, Holly Gent, Vincent Palmo Jr. Distributor: Annapurna Pictures Running Time: 130 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019
Review: Roberto Minerviniâs What You Gonna Do When the Worldâs on Fire?
The film is beautiful and occasionally quite moving, but its subject matter deserves more than art-house irresolution.2
With What You Gonna Do When the Worldâs on Fire?, Roberto Minervini returns to the American South to tell the stories of several African-Americans living in New Orleans, over the summer of 2017. These stories are so self-contained that the documentary comes to suggest an anthology film, which, in this case, has been organized around a pervading theme of how political and personal textures intersect in everyday black life. And in the tradition of the anthology film, Minerviniâs material is also variable, suggesting that the filmmaker couldâve been more ruthless in the editing room and less beholden to the pleasures of his self-consciously neat aesthetic.
Violence, poverty, incarceration, and sexual abuse haunt Minerviniâs subjects, and his film is most powerful when it shows how casually people have acclimated themselves to systemic failure. Two half-brothers, 14-year-old Ronaldo King and nine-year-old Titus Turner, are lectured by their mother, Ashlei, about meeting a 7 p.m. curfew thatâs clearly been implemented to steer them away from crime, the dangers of which she explains to Titus. In this moment, Minervini dramatizes Titusâs inoculation into a volatile world, capturing how the boy gradually sheds his innocenceâan impression thatâs affirmed later in the film when Ronaldo tutors Titus on fighting. Duct-taping towels around Titusâs hands in place of boxing gloves, Ronaldo tells his little brother to hit him with decisiveness, while admitting that, once one gets older, most fights are settled with guns. Ronaldo dispenses such advice with a matter-of-fact-ness thatâs bone-chilling, and with a brotherly love thatâs deeply poignant.
Juxtaposed with this coming-of-age youth narrative are stories of a recovering crack addict, Judy Hill, whoâs realized her dream of opening a bar, and of a local chapter of the New Black Panthers, which is investigating and protesting several murders, such as the recent decapitation and burning of a local black man. Intellectually, one can see why Minervini believes these threads belong together, as they both illustrate how African-Americans foster their own infrastructures as a reaction to the corruption and indifference of governments on various levels. But Minerviniâs cross-cutting shortchanges both of these story threads. Minervini reveals preciously little about the principle murder that the New Black Panthers are seeking to avenge, using it vaguely as a symbol of Southern atrocity at large, and the practical details of operating Judyâs bar are reduced to sketches. In both cases, the specifics of the subjectsâ concerns havenât been entirely dramatized.
In certain portions of What You Gonna Do When the Worldâs on Fire?, particularly those featuring the New Black Panthers, Minervini taps into reservoirs of anger that are nearly at odds with his chilly formalism. The film was shot by D.P. Diego Romero in pristine black and white, with long takes that drink in the details of the landscapes and peopleâs bodies. One is often encouraged to savor the beauty of the lighting, especially in Judyâs bar, and Minervini eschews typical documentary devices like narration and interviews. In terms of gliding, sumptuous style, What You Gonna Do When the Worldâs on Fire? is reminiscent of Alfonso CuarĂłnâs Roma, as both films verge on turning class struggles into moving coffee-table books.
Weâre supposed to feel as if weâve slipped effortlessly into the lives of Minerviniâs subjects, which might have been possible if more time had been devoted to pivotal moments. If Minervini wasnât able to capture the moment when Judy learns that she must close the bar, then perhaps he couldâve wrestled with his inability to capture it. Judy demands a meta-textual approach anyway, as she is a highly charismatic and self-absorbed person who is often clearly performing for the camera, most gratingly when she responds to her motherâs fear of homelessness with a monologue about her own generosity. A filmmaker like Robert Greene mightâve challenged Judy and utilized her for a riff on the power of self-mythology, but Minervini prizes his faux-objectivity; heâs more interested in mood than process or character. What You Gonna Do When the Worldâs on Fire? is beautiful and occasionally quite moving, but its subject matter deserves more than art-house irresolution.
Director: Roberto Minervini Screenwriter: Roberto Minervini Distributor: KimStim Running Time: 123 min Rating: NR Year: 2018
Review: Good Boysâs Raunchy Take on Tweendom Is the Same Old Shtick
Gene Stupnitskyâs film is Big Mouth for those who prefer ribald humor about tweenage sexuality in live action.2
Gene Stupnitskyâs Good Boys is Big Mouth for those who prefer ribald humor about tweenage sexuality in live action, though it lacks the Netflix showâs frankness and authenticity. While hearing sixth graders curse and exhibit their burgeoning sexual awareness constitutes the filmâs entire gimmick, its coarse language and surprising displays of sexual material mask an inner timidity. In the post-âpuberty monsterâ world ushered in by Big Mouth, a show that cares to acknowledge that girls also experience puberty, both the filmâs jokes and easy coming-of-age morality tale seem tame, beautified for an audience it assumes will not want to confront the abjectness of tweensâ emotional and sexual imaginations.
That said, there are laughs to be had in Good Boys, many of them deriving from the main charactersâ mistaken understanding of the adult world. Max (Jacob Tremblay), for example, believes that his college-age neighbor, Hannah (Molly Gordon), is a ânymphomaniacâ because she has sex both on land and at sea. Thor (Brady Noon), who pretends to possess advanced knowledge and experience in all areas, misinterprets his parentsâ sex toys as weapons. And Lucas (Keith L. Williams) comes to believe that Hannah and her friend, Lily (Midori Francis), are irredeemable drug addicts because they want to do the âsex drugâ molly.
Max doesnât know how to kiss girls, and his middle-school mind tells him that the best way to learn is by using his fatherâs (Will Forte) drone to spy on Hannah kissing her boyfriend, Benji (Josh Caras). That leads to Hannah and Lily taking the drone, and as recompense, Thor steals Hannahâs purse, which contains a vitamin bottle full of molly that the boys promptly lose. Part of the filmâs at least outwardly risquĂ© treatment of tween boyhood is that the boysâ possession of and efforts to procure a party drug drives much of the story. And that story is a chain of cause and effect that abides by the protagonistsâ middle-school priorities: If Max doesnât find more molly, he will lose his fatherâs drone, which means that he never gets to kiss a girl.
The cascading series of absurd situations that are driven by Maxâs desire to kiss his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis), includes the boys trashing a frat house, selling a sex doll to a weirdo (Stephen Merchant), and handing over the bottle full of molly to an oblivious cop (Sam Richardson). (This last bit is as tenuous as a dangling thread for conspicuously missing a punchline, almost as if the filmmakers never got around to shooting it.) In the end, the trio, the so-called âbean bag boys,â must learn that middle school will mean growing apart to some extent: Max is into girls and the sixth-grade social scene, Thor loves theater, and Lucas is a kindly nerd who enjoys card games. That these interests arenât in the least mutually exclusive, particularly for Generation Z, proves beyond the filmâs capacity to acknowledge.
Good Boysâs humor is by and large the same as that of any other male-centric R-rated comedy; if it differentiates itself from other iterations of the genre, itâs through a group of pre-teens making verbosely obscene comments and engaging in gross-out physical comedy. Thereâs a sense that Good Boys draws open a curtain and peeks into a rarely seen and dimly remembered space of tweendom. But itâs satisfied with just this peekâand as convincingly as the filmmakers can compel their child stars to enunciate obscene exclamations, the film never captures much of the feeling, of the world of childhood experience, in which they might be based. As a result, Good Boys never transcends its Superbad-but-with-11-year-olds shtick.
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Millie Davis, Josh Caras, Will Forte, Retta, Lil Rel Howery, Sam Richardson, Stephen Merchant Director: Gene Stupnitsky Screenwriter: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 89 min Rating: R Year: 2019
Review: Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld Is a Gonzo Look at an Unsolved Mystery
The film is about a mystery that isnât solved, and how that inconclusiveness spotlights the insidious functions of society.3
Like Oliver Stoneâs JFK and David Fincherâs Zodiac, Mads BrĂŒggerâs documentary Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld is about a mystery that isnât solved, and how that inconclusiveness spotlights the insidious functions of society. BrĂŒgger also has in common with Stone and Fincher a visceral fascination with the minutiae of a particularly flabbergasting conspiracy theory. At one point near the end of the film, BrĂŒgger even comes clean, admitting that his investigation of the suspicious 1961 plane crash that killed United Nations Secretary General Dag HammarskjĂ¶ld is mostly a pretense for allowing him to partake of a larger reportorial adventure that includes, among other things, Belgium assassins. By that point, though, BrĂŒgger neednât bother with the confession, as his true obsessions are already quite clear.
BrĂŒgger is also the de facto host of Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld, and he has a penchant for hamming it up that brings to mind Werner Herzog. At the start of the film, as if seemingly ready for a safari, the Danish filmmaker is seen wearing an all-white uniform, which he claims is the wardrobe worn by the ultimate villain of his narrative. BrĂŒgger is holed up in a hotel with two African secretaries, Saphir Mabanza and Clarinah Mfengu, dictating to them the events weâre about to see. Both the wardrobe and the presence of these secretaries are gimmicks, and while the former is harmless, the latter is of questionable taste.
Much of the film pivots on various colonialist atrocities wrought in Africa by the British and other imperialist powers. And so it seems that BrĂŒgger wants the shock of these implications to register on the faces of Saphir and Clarinah, people who have a potentially intimate connection to his alternate history. In other words, he seems to have hired these women in order to achieve a sensational effect. To their credit, they donât oblige him, and their sober intensity suggests that they donât need a white man to tell them of the evils of the world.
Of course, BrĂŒgger isnât trying to be likable, as heâs pointedly allergic to the pathos affected by Herzog and, more gallingly, Michael Moore. Thereâs something of an irony to many first-person documentaries: They prove that bad news often makes for good drama, with their makers all the while feeling the need to make a show of being enraged or saddened. BrĂŒgger, who resembles a slimmer Louis C.K., never once bothers with this pose, and his honesty gives Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld an aura of self-absorption thatâs weirdly bracing and resonant in an age thatâs dominated seemingly by nothing but conspiracy theories, âalternate factsâ that suggest that reality is dictated by those with the most power. BrĂŒgger, a scrappy journalist, seeks truth as a means of accessing that very power, looking to cement his own name.
BrĂŒggerâs narrative is an intimidating thicket of dead ends, coincidences, and a seemingly endless procession of interviews with creepy elderly white men who almost certainly know more than they care to admit. HammarskjĂ¶ld was a drab-looking, pipe-smoking Swedish diplomat whom many assumed would be the very embodiment of minding the status quo of global politics, though he turned out to be an idealist who was especially concerned with the exploitation of the Congo. Several powers were vying for control of the Congoâs mineral resources, including Belgium, the Soviet Union, and Britain, and HammarskjĂ¶ld supported nothing less than revolution, leading to a costly U.N.-backed military mission in Katanga. On September 18, 1961, a U.N. plane carrying HammarskjĂ¶ld went down in a field in Northern Rhodesiaâan area thatâs now part of Zambiaâeight miles from the Ndola airport, which BrĂŒgger memorably describes as a perfect âkill roomâ for being tucked away from prying eyes.
Following a labyrinthine trail, BrĂŒgger makes an intoxicatingly convincing case for the U.N. DC-6 crash, which killed HammarskjĂ¶ld and 15 others, as a murder conspiracy. Interviewing people who lived near the Ndola airport at the time, BrĂŒgger reveals that investigators didnât pay any attention to these witnesses, who spoke of bursting, gunshot-like sounds and of fire coming from the planeânegligence thatâs probably due as much to racism and a disinterest in the truth. BrĂŒgger also speaks with Charles Southall, a former official of the National Security Agency, who heard a recording of the crash that references a second plane and gunshots. Along the way, various potential smoking guns pop up, including a panel of metal riddled with what appears to be bullet holes, and, most ghastly, an ace of spades card that was placed on HammarskjĂ¶ldâs corpse, which was remarkably and inexplicably intact following the crash.
The documentaryâs structure is somewhat loose, reflecting how detection often involves running in circles, discarding trails only to see them heat up again, and so forth. At times, BrĂŒggerâs transitions can be murky, as heâll be talking to a new person before we can entirely digest how he arrived at this point. But the somewhat arbitrary quality of Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld becomes a significant source of its power, suggesting less a singular answer than a reality composed of a hundred half-truths. Eventually, BrĂŒgger homes in on a secret operation known as the South African Group for Maritime Research, or SAIMR, which becomes the object of the filmmakerâs obsession, to the point that HammarskjĂ¶ld is nearly forgotten.
BrĂŒgger never entirely proves SAIMRâs existence, as heâs led to the organization via documents uncovered from South Africaâs Truth and Reconciliation Commission that are suspiciously on the nose, suggesting the stuff of bad spy fiction. SAIMR is said to be a private mercenary group, probably serving the U.N. in secret, and responsible for HammarskjĂ¶ldâs murder as well as a plot to kill the black population of Africa with cheap medical centers that are actually giving patients shots of the H.I.V. virus. This revelation is so operatically evil, so beyond the pale of a liberalâs worst fantasies, that it serves to transform Cold Case HammarskjĂ¶ld into a kind of political horror film. And BrĂŒgger, in his meticulous sense of sensationalism, does prove one point via his lack of answers: that he and his dogged collaborators are asking questions which shouldâve been posed at much higher levels of multiple chains of government. In BrĂŒggerâs hands, the general indifference of the major world powers to the possible murder of a key political figure suggests nothing less than maintenance of a diseased hierarchy.
Director: Mads BrĂŒgger Screenwriter: Mads BrĂŒgger Distributor: Magnolia Pictures Running Time: 122 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Review: Blinded by the Light Is a Wet, Sloppy, Public Kiss to Bruce Springsteen
The film bottles a palpable emotion of unabashed joy, even when the rest of it seems to barely hold together.2.5
As rebel icons go, Bruce Springsteen is as unlikely as they come. One does not, after all, tend to look to a man nicknamed âThe Bossâ for advice on raging against the machine. But in 1987 England under Margaret Thatcher, amid economic turmoil and fascist demonstrations, a British-Pakistani teenager, Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), hungers for a dissenting voice in his life. Javed is constantly at the whim of his domineering, recently laid-off father, Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), and his only real outlet for his troubles is writing poetry. But once his friend, Roops (Aaron Phagura), foists Born in the U.S.A. and Darkness on the Edge of Town cassettes upon him, Javed gets swept up in Springsteenâs music, hearing no small part of himself in the white American singer-singerâs working-class howl.
What follows in Gurinder Chadhaâs Blinded by the Light is a wet, sloppy, public kiss to Springsteen thatâs at once hackneyed and infectious. Inspired by co-screenwriter Sarfraz Manzoorâs 2007 memoir Greetings from Bury Park, the film has a love for Springsteenâs music that feels raw and real. For one, it sees no shame in Javed and his pals dorkily dancing in the streets to âBorn to Run,â as the filmmakers understand that teenage obsession really is that all-encompassing, so open-hearted that it naturally teeters into absolute corn.
Blinded by the Light is also endearing for not feeling like its edges have been sanded off. Indeed, you may find yourself worrying about Javed plastering the walls of his room exclusively in Springsteen posters, or about the way he gives a teasing, zombie-like moan to the stick-in-the-mud kid running the school radio station: âBruuuuce.â There is, the film understands, a dizzying thrill to finding yourself in something thatâs not even explicitly designed for you, like youâre in on a secret. Springsteen certainly wasnât thinking of a British-Pakistani kid when writing his lyrics, but they speak to Javed anyway.
Chadhaâs film bottles a palpable emotion of unabashed joy, even when the rest of the story seems to barely hold together. Its comedy is always mugging and its melodrama is especially heightened, and to the point that scenes are apt to trigger secondhand embarrassment, as when Javed and Roops chant Bruce lyrics at boys harassing them. Much of the drama feels like the narrative of a music video, which needs to be big and obvious enough so that viewers can recognize whatâs happening based on the imagery and the music alone. But with the songs stripped away in Blinded by the Lightâs latter half, the supporting characters and themes are left as stumbling, half-sketched husks. It becomes clear that the music cues fill in so many gaps, standing in for whatever nuance might have otherwise supported scenes like a parade confrontation that relies on the blaring âJunglelandâ sax solo.
Cast: Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir, Hayley Atwell, Nell Williams, Aaron Phagura, Dean-Charles Chapman, Rob Brydon, Meera Ganatra Director: Gurdinder Chadha Screenwriter: Paul Mayeda Berges, Gurdinder Chadha, Sarfraz Manzoor Distributor: New Line Cinema Running Time: 117 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2019
Review: 47 Meters Down: Uncaged Soars When It Disregards Characterization
The film wrings white-knuckle tension less through jump scares than from the darkness of a seemingly infinite void.2.5
While Johannes Robertsâs 47 Meters Down was marred by strained dialogue and flat characterizations, it certainly knew how to instill a sense of dread in the audience. That filmâs premise, about two sisters with conflicting personalities who take an adventurous excursion that goes horribly awry, carries over to 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, though this standalone film is less concerned with exploring its main charactersâ familial relationship. And thatâs mostly for the better, as it gives Roberts more than enough room to foreground the grueling terror of coming into contact with sharks in the ocean deep.
In its opening stretch, Uncaged aggressively runs the gamut of teen-movie clichĂ©s. Indeed, as soon as itâs done establishing the contentious relationship between two stepsisters, shy and awkward Mia (Sophie NĂ©lisse) and outgoing and popular Sasha (Corinne Foxx), the film is flashing the girlsâ frustration with their archeologist father, Grant (John Corbett), for spending too much time working. And then thereâs Catherine (Brec Bassinger), the prototypical mean girl who fake-apologizes for foisting Mia into the pool outside the international all-girls high school they all attend in Mexicoâs YucatĂĄn Peninsula. That Uncaged doesnât end with Mia, accidentally or otherwise, throwing Catherine into a sharkâs maw is the final proof that all of the filmâs initially corny character work is in service of absolutely nothing.
Mercifully, though, the film quickly shifts into thriller mode once Sasha drags Mia off to a remote region of the YucatĂĄn, where their father recently discovered a submerged Mayan city. Soon after Mia, Sasha, and the latterâs adventurous friends, Nicole (Sistine Rose Stallone) and Alexa (Brianne Tju), arrive at the site and enjoy a swim above the main entrance to the city, they decide to strap on scuba gear and plunge into the water in order to gawk at the ancient relics that lurk below the surface. One crashed city column later and the girls come face to face with a deadly species of sharks that has evolved to survive in the darkness of the labyrinthine system of caves and tunnels where marine life isnât supposed to exist.
Roberts wastes no time ratcheting up the tension, and a stifling sense of claustrophobia, once the girls find themselves trapped underwater and are forced to navigate a series of increasingly tight passageways, all while trying to harness the dwindling supply of oxygen from their scuba tanks. The filmmakers sustain this vise-grip suspense as the girls continue to face an array of unexpected, increasingly challenging obstacles, which, in fairly realistic fashion, extends their time stuck below the surface alongside the blind yet vicious sharks. At one point, they discover a pocket of air that proves to be as much of a bane as it is a boon.
Throughout, Roberts makes ample use of negative space as Mia and company make their way through the Mayan city with flashlights in hand. All the while, the bubbles from their scuba gear and the clouds of dust caused by falling rocks intensify their feelings of disorientation and panic, while also helpfully obscuring the low-rent nature of the filmâs CGI effects. If, toward the end of Uncaged, the impact of these visual tactics is dulled by a few too many âgotchaâ moments, the film more or less keeps things efficiently moving, wringing white-knuckle tension less through jump scares than from the darkness of a seemingly infinite void.
Cast: Sistin Stallon, Corinne Foxx, Brianne Tju, Sophie Nelisse, Brec Bassinger, Khylin Rhambo, Davi Santos, John Corbett, Nia Long Director: Johannes Roberts Screenwriter: Ernest Riera, Johannes Roberts Distributor: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures Running Time: 89 min Rating: R Year: 2019
Review: The Amazing Johnathan Documentary Is Gratingly Self-Knowing
Over and over, the film reminds us that banking on a gimmick isnât an adequate substitute for an incisive character portrait.1.5
Despite its title, Ben Bermanâs The Amazing Johnathan Documentary isnât exactly about comedian-cum-magician John Edward Szeles. The film initially seems like it will remain within the boundaries of conventional portraiture. Weâre presented with clips of Szelesâs performances, talking-head interviews with his family and other comedians, and the news that he only has a year left to live due to a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Then, a title card indicates that weâre a few years into the future and that Szeles has outlived his prognosis. He decides to start performing againâagainst his doctorâs wishesâand the looming prospect of death gives Berman enough material to supply this film.
Unfortunately, Bermanâs plans for a straightforward documentary are thwarted by events beyond his control. Most notably, it comes to light that another documentary about Szelesâs life is being produced, apparently by the people behind Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man. The news makes Berman visibly nervous, and The Amazing Johnathan Documentary soon devolves into an awkward account of its own completion, with Berman talking with the other documentaryâs crew, worrying about his own film being overshadowed, and stressing out about the extent to which Szeles might favor the other project.
Szelesâs interviews with online publications, radio shows, and Berman himself readilyâand redundantlyâcorroborate the filmmakerâs impression that his subject is more excited about the other documentary being made about him. Berman doesnât ask questions that carve out the fullness of anyone on camera, as he seems more interested in making sure that we grasp the severity of his dilemma. By the time he interviews Johnâs parents in order to draw empathy from them, claiming that he âfor once [âŠ] was making a documentary out of love and art,â The Amazing Jonathan Documentary comes to feel like an echo chamber of affirmation.
Much like Szelesâs own actâcomposed of prop gags built around simplistic puns, gross-out illusions, and jokes that riff on his ostensible inabilities as a magicianâBermanâs film is convinced of its own cleverness. While The Amazing Johnathan Documentary hints at being a meta film about the hardships of documentary filmmaking, or a mirror to Bermanâs own foibles as a person, itâs constantly cut short by a lack of foresight. At one point, Berman decides to smoke meth with Szelesâwhoâs revealed to have been addicted to the drug in the pastâas an act of âgonzo journalismâ and to make the documentary more âinteresting,â though the moment is ultimately cut from the film for legal reasons. Later, when Szeles accompanies Criss Angel to the presentation of the latterâs star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Berman is forced to use press footage because he didnât make the event. This resulted from a lack of communication between Berman and Szeles, illuminating their current rift, but Bermanâs acknowledgement of this tension is emblematic of the filmâs biggest failure: The lack of cooperation from Berman and Szeles isnât outrageous enough to be amusing on its own, nor does it come across as anything more than run-of-the-mill discord among colleagues.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary seems born out of necessity rather than intentâa side effect of Berman needing to find a sensible ending for the film. We eventually find out that Always Amazing, the other documentary being made about Szeles, actually has no connection to Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man. And in a desperate, last-ditch stab at coherence, Berman ends up getting Simon Chinnâthe Oscar-winning producer behind those filmsâto sign on as his executive producer. The moment feels like a consolation prize for those who had to sit through so much ego-massaging on Bermanâs part. Itâs a final stroke of luck for the filmmaker, but it also suggests a bandage being placed on a gunshot wound, reminding us again that banking on a gimmick isnât an adequate substitute for an incisive character portrait.
Director: Ben Berman Distributor: Hulu Running Time: 91 min Rating: NR Year: 2019
Review: Aquarela Viscerally Attests to Mother Nature’s Fight for Survival
At heart, Aquarela is a war film: a cacophonous survey of the global battle between man and water.3
On the surface, Victor Kossakovskyâs Aquarela suggests a conventional nature doc, filled as it is with breathtaking images that attest to Mother Natureâs might and majesty. But at heart, itâs a war film: a cacophonous survey of the global battle between man and water. The filmâs wide array of visual evidence showing people in brutal disharmony with their surroundings presents a compelling case that as humanity continues to assault the planet through climate change, our Earth is fighting back twice as hard.
The film opens with a series of scenes in which a group of Russian officials traipse around a large expanse of ice, periodically stabbing at it with long poles. It takes a while before we understand that theyâve been tasked with recovering automobiles that have fallen through the frozen body of water, which has started to thaw earlier in the season than normal. In one nail-biting sequence, a car speeds along the ice before, without warning, abruptly falling through and disappearing beneath the surface. A rescue crew saves the driver and passenger in a chaotic sequence in which no oneâs safety seems guaranteed, not even those behind the camera, whom we never see but whose terror is palpable in the nervous camerawork.
From a sequence of a sailboat operated by a single woman battling a fierce storm to shots in which giant chunks of ice that have fallen off a glacier bob up and down in the water like gigantic breaching whales, Aquarela doesnât lack for simultaneously awesome and terrifying images. Thereâs a ferociousness and churning volatility to the filmâs view of natureâa point heavily underlined by Eicca Toppinenâs heavy metal-inflected score. Though not quite as abrasive as Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravelâs Leviathan, which utilized an arsenal of GoPro cameras to create a turbulent, viscerally unsettling document of a commercial fishing trawlerâs voyage at sea, Aquarela evinces a similar desire to overwhelm and discombobulate its audience. Kossakovsky employs a deeply immersive sound design that emphasizes the rough swoosh of waves and the shattering cracks of thawing glaciers.
Through a variety of cinematographic gesturesâpicturesque long shots, underwater footage, and tracking shots of wavesâKossakovsky gives us a wide view of the diversity of forms that water takes on Earth. Massive fields of drift ice are juxtaposed against ocean water that seems viscous and almost as black as oil. But Aquarela isnât merely interested in showcasing waterâs different states of matter, as it also constructs a subtle but distinct narrative in which water itself is the protagonist in a war for its own survival. After one particularly violent sequence of glaciers cracking apart, we see a disquieting shot of jagged, broken ice that suggests a battlefield strewn with the bodies of fallen soldiers. But later in the film, itâs as if the water is avenging itself on humankind with a series of hurricanes and torrential downpours.
Aquarela ultimately closes with the image of a rainbow appearing across Angel Falls, the worldâs tallest waterfall. If that sounds like a serene coda, it feels more like the mournful calm after a particularly harrowing catastrophe. Someday, this battle between nature and humanity will end, but Kossakovsky suggests that there will be no victors on either side, only victims.
Director: Victor Kossakovsky Screenwriter: Victor Kossakovsky, Aimara Reques Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics Running Time: 89 min Rating: PG Year: 2018
The 100 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time
These films are fearless in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own.
âThe [sci-fi] film has never really been more than an offshoot of its literary precursor, which to date has provided all the ideas, themes and inventiveness. [Sci-fi] cinema has been notoriously prone to cycles of exploitation and neglect, unsatisfactory mergings with horror films, thrillers, environmental and disaster movies.â So wrote J.G. Ballard about George Lucasâs Star Wars in a 1977 piece for Time Out. If Ballardâs view of science-fiction cinema was highly uncharitable and, as demonstrated by the 100 boldly imaginative and mind-expanding films below, essentially off-base, he nevertheless touched on a significant point: that literary and cinematic sci-fi are two fundamentally different art forms.
Fritz Langâs Metropolis, a visionary depiction of a near-future dystopia, is almost impossible to imagine as a work of prose fiction. Strip away the Art Deco glory of its towering cityscapes and factories and the synchronized movements of those who move through those environments and whatâs even left? Itâs no accident that some of the greatest cinematic adaptations of sci-fi novels bear only a passing resemblance to their source material. Ridley Scottâs Blade Runner, for example, simply mines some of the concepts from Phillip K. Dickâs Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about human-looking androids, using them as the raw material for a haunting urban future-noir that owes more to visual artists like Moebius and Antonio SantâElia than it does to Dick himself. Then thereâs Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker, which transfigures Arkady and Boris Strugatskyâs briskly paced novella Roadside Picnic into a slow, mesmerizing journey into an uncanny space.
Ballard may have been right that literary sci-fi has provided all the interesting themes and ideas for which sci-fi in general has become known, but he failed to grasp how cinema has expanded our understanding of sci-fi by pricking at our collective visual consciousness. The titles on our list of the 100 best sci-fi movies of all time have shown us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed. Some of these depictions are humorous, others haunting. Some rely on complicated special effects, others use none at all. But theyâre united by their fearlessness in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own. Keith Watson
100. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980)
Ken Russellâs psychedelic Altered States examines one manâs egregious deflection of paternal responsibility in the name of scientific innovation. Fantasy and self-indulgence are the most powerful narcotics in the filmâdrugs that allow Harvard scientist Dr. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) to flirt with an increasingly volatile dream state where, as he puts it, âtime simply obliterates.â Consumed by religious repression and self-guilt regarding his fatherâs painful death from cancer decades ago, Eddie becomes addicted to medicating his own primal urges through lengthy self-deprivation experiments. The theme of escape dominates the film, especially during Eddieâs visit with a native tribe from Central Mexico where a peyote session causes Eddie to hallucinate, visualized by Russell as a nightmarish dreamscape of striking imagery. Itâs an incredibly subjective sequence, placing the viewer inside Eddieâs headspace during a lengthy and jarring slide show from hell. Lava flows, sexual acts, and animal disembowelment all crash together, images that take on even more symbolic meaning later in the film when Eddie begins to evolve physically into a simian form. Glenn Heath Jr.
99. Tomorrow Iâll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (JindĆich PolĂĄk, 1977)
A film as brilliantly constructed as it is titled, JindĆich PolĂĄkâs Tomorrow Iâll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea is a swinging comedy about a secret cabal of Nazis whoâve discovered the secret of time travel and are intent on using it to go back to World War II and supply Hitler with an atomic bomb. The plot also involves a pair of twins, mistaken identities, and anti-ageing pills, and yet, despite having to keep all these narrative balls in the air, the film never feels convoluted or over-stuffed. Instead, itâs a delightfully wacky farce that treats its potentially terrifying premise with cheerfully irreverent humor, exemplified by the filmâs opening credits, which feature archival footage of Hitler manipulated to make it look like heâs boogieing to disco music. And if all thatâs still not enough, PolĂĄkâs film also offers a nifty showcase of some of the grooviest low-budget futuristic production design the â70s Soviet bloc had to offer. Watson
98. Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges, 1980)
A gleefully cheesy throwback to the sci-fi serials of yesteryear, Mike Hodgesâs Flash Gordon is as pure a camp spectacle as youâre likely to find. A glitzyâat times garishâextravaganza of brightly colored sets, skin-baring costumes, and otherworldly vistas that wouldnât seem out of place in the gatefold of a Yes album, the film is silly and cartoonish in the best sense of those terms. Featuring such outlandish characters as the fu manchu-sporting villain Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed, bare-legged and sporting giant metallic wings), and the blank-eyed beefcake at the center of it all, Flash (Sam J. Jones), the film is very much in on its own joke. Produced by Dino de Laurentiis to cash in on the post-Star Wars mania for space-opera flicks, Flash Gordon ultimately has more in common with tongue-in-cheek cult musicals like Phantom of the Paradise and Xanadu than it does with George Lucasâs action-packed monomyth. Thatâs thanks in large part to the rip-roaring soundtrack by Queen, whose spirited pomposity seamlessly complements the filmâs flamboyant comic-strip visual delights. Watson
97. The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)
James Whaleâs anarchically playful The Invisible Man is an outlier among Universalâs line of classic monster movies. More of an inventive mash-up of black comedy and sci-fi than true horror, the film is an incendiary piece of speculative fiction that counterbalances its cautionary-tale tropes by perpetually reveling in the chaos its megalomaniacal protagonist stirs up, even as his intensifying violent impulses shift from harmlessly prankish to straight-up lethal. This pervasive sense of moral ambiguity is only strengthened by Whaleâs decision to keep Claud Rainsâs Dr. Jack Griffin invisible until the filmâs closing seconds and elide his characterâs backstory altogether. Griffinâs unknowability and cryptic motivations are mirrored in his literal invisibility, allowing his corruption and unquenchable thirst for power to take on a universal quality that implicates the audience even as it as it entertains them. Derek Smith
96. The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)
A gentle-hearted satire on race and the immigrant experience, John Saylesâs The Brother from Another Planet follows an unnamed mute extra-terrestrial (Joe Morton) who, after crash-landing in the Hudson River, navigates life in the Big Apple. The hook, of course, is that while this âbrotherâ hails from a far-off planet, to the people of New York, he looks like just another black guy. This premise, which couldâve been mined for easy laughs or obvious platitudes about racism, is instead, in Saylesâs hands, a sensitive, socially observant fable about the difficulties of assimilation. The brother is, in all senses of the term, an alien: far from home, isolated from those around him, unsure how to navigate local social interactions, and, ultimately, unsure if he belongs in this world at all. Bolstered by Mortonâs soulful lead performanceâfew have ever made the act of listening so compelling to watchâSaylesâs film is science fiction at its most succinct and humane. Watson
95. Days of Eclipse (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1988)
Aleksandr Sokurovâs Days of Eclipse opens with a majestic birdsâ eye view tracking shot of a desolate desert landscape. As the camera speeds up, it descends from the heavens, violently crashing into the ground in a poverty-stricken Turkmenistani community. The shot invokes a metaphorical image of invasion, and after a hard cut, weâre offered a blistering glimpse of that invasionâs impact: a landscape neglected to the point of decay, crumbling amid the oppressive heat and other inexplicable natural phenomena. Alternating between drab sepia tones and more vividly colorful footage, Sokurov films a multicultural community through the disoriented, foreign eyes of Malyanov (Aleksei Ananishnov), a Russian physician sent on a vague mission to bring modern science to the village. But Malyanov remains a stranger in a strange land, unable to commune with the shell-shocked villagers, whose trauma and desperation has rendered them alien to all outsiders. Like Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker and Aleksei Germanâs Hard to Be a God, both also based on novels by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Days of Eclipse transforms an ordinary landscape into something mystical and otherworldly. And in this film in particular, it perfectly embodies the unbridgeable disconnect between colonizer and colonized. Smith
94. Voyage to the End of the Universe (JindĆich PolĂĄk, 1963)
While some Czech New Wave filmmakers in the 1960s explored the interconnected social and political foibles of people in their home country, Jindrich PolĂĄkâs effects-laden Voyage to the End of the Universe trades the oppressed Soviet-ruled Czech Republic for the outer reaches of the cosmos. The journey of the starship Ikarie XB-1 in searching for life on another planet isnât without the Czech New Waveâs notable playfulness when detailing how travelers cope with the monotony of space travel (hereâs looking at you, dance party sequence), though PolĂĄk expresses a darkly fatalistic worldview as well. If the haunting sequence of Ikarie XB-1 crew members finding a doomed ship that went on a similar mission is any indication, PolĂĄk suggests that sheer advancements in innovation and searching for a new life-sustaining planet is ultimately an exercise in futility, since human life, in both the individual sense and as a species, will end at some point. It seems we might as well, like the filmâs bored cosmonauts, just simply let go and dance the night away. Wes Greene
93. The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951)
Legend has it that The Thing from Another World was helmed not by its credited director, Christian Nyby, but by producer Howard Hawks. The film certainly provides ample evidence to suggest that such a covert switch occurred, as the its controlled atmosphere of dread and abundant rapid-fire repartee between the primary players seem to have been molded according to Hawksâs trademark template. Regardless, what remains most remarkable about the film is its continued ability to function as both a taut science-fiction thriller and a telling snapshot of the Cold War paranoia beginning to sweep the country in post-WWII America. The story, about the battle between a group of stranded military personnel and an alien creature fueled by human blood, is a model of economic storytelling. The conflict between Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) is one between Force and Reason, and represents a debate over whether America should cope with its Soviet adversaries through military confrontation or intellectual and diplomatic study. Given the â50s political climate, itâs no surprise that the filmâs climax answers such a question by painting the sympathetic Carrington as a danger to mankind and the violent Hendry as a heroic warrior. Nick Schager
92. The Worldâs End (Edgar Wright, 2013)
Edgar Wright wrapped up his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy with The Worldâs End, a rollicking alien-invasion ode to boozing up and moving on that bests even Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in its comingling of hilarious buddy humor, aesthetically electric action, and genre shout-outsmanship. The story of a group of high school friends reunited to complete a famed pub crawl at the behest of their once-great, now-pitiful leader (Simon Pegg), only to find that their sleepy rural England hometown has been turned into a picture-perfect haven for extraterrestrial cyborg pod people, Wrightâs film is a blistering barrage of contentious one-liners and CG-ified mayhem. Staged with the directorâs usual high-wire dexterity and bolstered a cast that handles whip-crack dialogue with giddy aplomb, itâs the filmmakerâs most exciting, inventive, and purely entertaining mash-up to dateânot to mention, in its alternately sympathetic and critical portrait of a man-child navigating the literal and figurative pitfalls of growing up, also his most heartfelt. Schager
91. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982)
The world of Slava Tsukermanâs cult classic suggests the neon-tinged flipside of Warholâs Factory. Anne Carlisle memorably plays dual roles: as Jimmy, a male model with a raging drug addiction, and Margaret, a bisexual girl who could easily pass for Aimee Mann during her âTil Tuesday days. Otto von Wernherr (Madonna enemy and early collaborator) plays a German scientist chasing after an alien spacecraft that visits the Earth in order to feed off the opium-producing receptors inside the brains of heroin users. During sexual orgasm, these receptors produce a sensation similar to the feeling produced by the brain during the absorption of heroin. The filmâs aliens (visually represented using negative film stock of a blood-shot eye) feed off of this pleasure principle, spontaneously combusting humans as they engage in sexual intercourse. Aliens, drugs, clubs, orgasms, and big hair! On its crazed surface, Liquid Sky is a celebration of the â80s counter-culture. But more than three decades after its release, the bad behavior and paranoia depicted here seemingly foreshadows both the ramifications of said cultureâs sexual indiscretions and a nationâs political naĂŻvetĂ©. Ed Gonzalez
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