Unpacking the Puzzle of TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME + MISSING PIECES

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. 1992. Directed by David Lynch. Screenplay by Lynch & Robert Engels.
Starring Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, David Bowie, Miguel Ferrer, Pamela Gidley, Heather Graham, Chris Isaak, Moira Kelly, David Lynch, James Marshall, Harry Dean Stanton, Kiefer Sutherland, Grace Zabriskie, Kyle MacLachlan, Frances Bay, Michael J. Anderson, Frank Silva, Al Strobel, Calvin Lockhart, & Carlton Lee Russell.
New Line Cinema/CiBy 2000/Twin Peaks Productions
Rated R. 135 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
PosterTwin Peaks as a series was, at the core, about very human issues; no matter the dreamy qualities. David Lynch has spent his entire career mainly dealing in surrealism. His aim is the human mind. Far out in the stratosphere as his imagery can get there’s always that humanity. I’ve attributed it to the spiritual nature of his filmmaking. Not religious: spiritual.
Lynch’s interest in things like transcendental meditation and other abstract concepts shows us how he thinks within his creative works. In this vein, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With MeMissing Pieces, and the various surreal scenes throughout the series – continuing now in “The Return” – are a way to understand how Lynch sees the concepts of good and evil particularly amongst human beings.
What Fire Walk With MeMissing Pieces does is serve as the sort of thesis for the entire world of Twin Peaks as a whole. Even though it comes later in non-linear fashion, when considering the film and its previously unreleased scenes this thesis becomes clear in the mind and then you can go back watching the two seasons – now blessed with another 18 episodes – to connect the dots which Lynch allows.
At the middle of the mysticism, mythology, its quirky and surreal esoteric nature, is the story of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). We venture into a tortured world – HER tortured world – in which the spiritual plays a large part. Specifically, we see how evil influence plays a macabre role in the corruption of goodness, of everything that is sweet and innocent.
IMG_0039I get that people feel the film is disjointed. It’s disjointed in a purposeful sense. Lynch and co-writer Robert Engels begin with groundwork. Literally, we start with the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) – this is the case similar to Laura’s which Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) mentions in the initial Twin Peaks episode. Through this, as we catch the story of Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak), we come across several of the basic concepts that come together throughout the series.
Electricity as an outside influence is constructed as corrupting. Within the Douglas fir-infested world of the town, all the beautiful and isolated nature, electricity comes to symbolise an evil seeping into the natural world. Lynch presents this literally with the inhabiting spirits, such as the nasty, murderous Bob (Frank Silva).
The most significant scene concerning this is twofold. First, we see the electrical pole in the trailer park with the sound of the electricity whooping through its wires. Not long after, we see the Man from Another Place (Michael J. Anderson) explain he is “the Arm” and his sound is that of the electricity; not just that, the sound is similar to a Native American call which suggests further connection to the Earth.
The first instance of electricity? When Cooper initially looks at the body of Laura in the morgue, where he realises the similarities with the murder of Ms. Banks. A light overhead flickers constantly.
RingIn addition there’s other moments which add up to show us how electricity is the major concept concerning spiritual beings in the Black Lodge. For instance, the owl ring we see Laura and Teresa wear is connected to electricity. The Man from Another Place says: “This is a formica table. Green is its colour.” Well, formica insulates from electricity. The owl ring is cut from that very table, which can be seen during both Fire Walk With Me and Missing Pieces when Lynch treats us to a lengthy sequence above the fabled convenience store, where the beings have their meetings (see table below).
Formica Table #2 - Ring Piece MissingSo, wearing the ring is a kind of double-edged sword. It’s a marker to the evil beings, like Bob, and at the same time it’s able to keep the evil from entering them. We see this when Laura wears the ring. Bob lusts after her, wanting to “taste” through her. But he can’t because the formica owl ring pushes him back, insulating Laura’s soul from being inhabited by Bob. This makes it further clear that the spiritual beings – this includes all those above the convenience store, including the Man from Another Place, Mrs. Tremond(/Chalfont) and her grandson, the electrician, the two lumberjacks (one of whom may likely be the Log Lady’s husband) – they don’t only travel through electricity, in a sense they consist of electricity. Which is why Bob cannot enter those who bear the owl ring.
Now, on to the specifically evil beings a bit more. There’s a passage from the Bible, Ephesians 6:12, which references “spiritual wickedness in high places” and this is better understood in consideration of Greek origins . Mainly I’m interested in the fact evil spirits and the devil come from the air, if we go by the Greeks. All spirits come from the air, though the higher air is where the good sit and the lower air is where the evil lurk. This all comes to bear on the lines from the Man from Another Place, once more: “Descended from pure air. Intercourse between the two worlds.”
Furthermore, we know from seeing the various spiritual beings not all of them are evil. Above all it’s Bob who is for certain an evil spirit, as well as the Jumping Man (Carlton Lee Russell) – whom I will discuss later. So the distinctions of the Greeks in seeing evil v. good spirits in the air (this air, I should note, is that directly below Heaven) is clear by the evil and good spiritual beings who frequent the Black Lodge and the room above the convenience store.
Jumping Man FWWMThe good v. evil spiritual beings isn’t only evident in Fire Walk With Me. During the series, Coop comes in contact with the One Armed Man, Phillip Gerard (Al Strobel). He admits to having been corrupted by Bob – “I too had been touched by the devilish one” – though coming to his senses and to the light of God, which changes him. He becomes an agent of good.
However, Mrs. Tremond and her grandson can be seen as at least a neutral force. They come in contact with Laura, and the boy warns her about “the man behind the mask.” Now this is a larger connection, which I believe involves the aforementioned Jumping Man. We have to unpack this, could take a minute.
Masks. Masks. Masks. Don’t forget, Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) leaves a mask for Coop in his hotel room in Season 2, Episode 15. This now relates incredibly to the first episode of the new Twin Peaks where Laura removes her face exactly like the way the mask opens in a flash of light for Coop.
So, the man behind the mask young Tremond speaks of is Bob, because we know he was the one “under the fan” – a reference to the staircase and hallway in the Palmer household. This is where Laura feels Bob pull at her, wanting to taste through her mouth. The Jumping Man connects because he has a similar face to the mask young Tremond wears, only his isn’t so much a mask, rather a face; or at least a painted face. Either way it’s as if the Jumping Man is an entirely demonic influence. Whether he’s connected to Bob, I don’t know. The Jumping Man appears dressed similarly to the Man from Another Place, suggesting a doppelganger-type issue.
Also, the Log Lady has a connection to the Jumping Man and the lumberjacks, at least possibly. She mentions in the series how her husband “met the devil” and she continues: “Fire is the devil like a coward hiding in the smoke.” We see the Jumping Man who jumps off and onto a box, partly obscured in clouds of smoke. Likewise, the Log Lady’s husband, a logging man, supposedly met the devil. Not far fetched to imagine that one of the lumberjacks, likely the one played by Jürgen Prochnow, is now a spiritual being up there. Maybe.
Man Behind the Mask FWWMFinally, we come to the human core. Even before we fall into the morbid story of Laura Palmer, Lynch shows us how even the heaviest mythology of Twin Peaks involves humanity. The convenience store is perhaps the best example. While Lynch explores these expansive concepts, existential thinking at the highest level, he remains connected to the real world, rooted in it – these spiritual beings not only look just like humans, they meet in a shabby room situated over a convenience store. In the real world Mrs. Tremond(/Chalfont) and her grandson live in a trailer park. These are ways in which Lynch says that the spiritual and the corporeal are interconnected, by barely a hair’s width. Living right alongside one another, on top of each other.
So it all winds up, all the mythology and the symbolism, into a tale about abuse in a small town, in an otherwise happy family. That outside influence of the unnatural, the evil influence, the electricity, infects the Palmers and eventually drives Leland (Ray Wise) to commit a horrible atrocity.
Part of the disturbing genius in Fire Walk With Me is Lynch makes us sit through Laura’s episode of, for better or worse, mental illness. It’s maybe the most harrowing, intense vision of such an experience in any film I know. Because it is genuine torture, watching Laura bounce back and forth between friends, family, foes, strangers. Never able to explain to anyone exactly what is going on, and even when she does it’s passed off as “not real” by those who couldn’t possibly comprehend her level of spiritual strife.
Laura Palmer Dead FaceAnd this is the bottom line, the chief concern of the film’s thesis statement: spiritual, existential pain.
Lynch’s own interests in transcendental meditation belie his interests on film. Through the story of Laura Palmer, her eventual murder and the forces surrounding the town of Twin Peaks, Lynch is able to address the concept of existential/spiritual pain, how the outside world infects the natural world around us – even inside us.
On one hand, Twin Peaks as a series bounces around joyfully from soap opera romance to 1950s throwback to horror to science fiction and fantasy, and almost every stop in between. For me, it’s exciting and fresh. When I first saw the series 16 years ago it enthralled me and I never let it go from my heart or my mind. On the other hand, Fire Walk With Me and its Missing Pieces are an exercise in dark surrealism and Greek tragedy. This is a macabre, gruelling piece of cinema. One which holds so much more than even casual fans of the series are likely to appreciate.
Soon enough I’ll come back to discuss the original series and its two seasons. If anyone has any further theories, please comment below! For now these stand as my clearest thoughts on the film. But Twin Peaks in all its forms is never far from my mind.

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Banshee – Season 3, Episode 7: “You Can’t Hide From the Dead”

Cinemax’s Banshee
Season 3, Episode 7: “You Can’t Hide From the Dead”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Christopher Kelley

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “We Were All Someone Else Yesterday” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “All the Wisdom I Got Left” – click here
Pic 1Poor Hood (Antony Starr) is plagued by memories of Siobhan (Trieste Kelly Dunn), neck snapped at the hands of Chayton Littlestone (Geno Segers). Looking through mounds of papers Hood only wants to track the man down and put an end to all the brutality.
At the same time, Chayton’s lying in a barn with bullets in him, bleeding, trying to stay alive after his recent brush with the law. He hallucinates a bit, too. Not exactly able to reconcile the life he’s recently taken with the scope of his mission.
Pic 1ABusy watching her new dude friend fist fight, Deva (Ryann Shane) is definitely not in a good place. Both figuratively and literally. She’s hanging with a nasty crowd, and enjoys it thoroughly. Not easy to deal with for Carrie (Ivana Milicevic) and Gordon (Rus Blackwell), that’s for sure.
Hood gets a visit from Aimee King (Meaghan Rath), who feels sorry for not stopping Chayton when she had the chance, though he assuages her guilt, knowing it isn’t easy to forget “all that history” in a single second with someone at the end of the gun’s barrel. Meanwhile, Job (Hoon Lee) and Sugar (Frankie Faison) are doing their thing, the former working on some voice recognition for their planned, upcoming military heist. He’s having a slight bit of trouble, but y’know, Job is slick.
At the funeral of his mother Kai Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen) arrives, surprising all. Instead of rejection, he receives opens arms from his father. They sit and listen to the priest speak over the body. Then there’s Rebecca (Lili Simmons), the resent trouble with her uncle. She’s not exactly playing nice, nor is he. She meets with Hector Morales (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), outside her uncle’s purview. Hmm, that’ll definitely mean trouble. One way or another. She makes a deal, using her own mental muscle to get things going for herself. Rebecca don’t play, she can hang with the gangsters.
While Hood is working out his issues, Job is keeping an eye on the military compound. “With all due respect we should all be a little worried,” Job tells his friend. He worries about the faux-sheriff’s state of mind, plus what that means for everyone around him. Hood wants to do their job tonight, and it doesn’t sit well with Job.
Pic 2When Lisa Marie (Susan Misner) checks on her barn she finds Chayton bleeding. He passes out while ordering her around, so she decides to help him in a time of physical trauma. She patches him up, as she would any other person. Despite that everything goes sideways when a neighbour turns up, getting stabbed with a pitchfork by Chayton for his trouble.
Carrie and Gordon find out where Deva’s been hanging with all those fighters and the rest of their wild crowd. The parents want their daughter to leave, but Deva’s new friends aren’t so keen on letting them go. This shows off Carrie and Gordon as a fighting team, both adept at kicking ass. The husband-wife team take on all comers. Best is Carrie – we get to see her kick the living shit out of three dudes, effortlessly. While Gordon gets to lay a beating on the greaser trying to bang his daughter. When dude pulls a gun dad dares him to use it, which he won’t. And the family walks away together.
Although they aren’t together, for real, Gordon and Carrie hook up after their crazy afternoon. But there’s still a flame for them, which is difficult. Carrie is hauled in two different directions, more than that really because of all the conflicts in her new life v. the old one.
Over at Sugar’s bar the crew are getting ready for the first steps of their latest robbery. No one, other than Hood, is too confident, though they’ve got the gusto. So they’re off, but will it go smoothly? Not everything goes entirely as planned. They get going well enough. A nice First Person Shooter view takes us through their respective cameras they wear. All Job’s gadgets work, allowing them entrance to the vault, and Sugar keeps an eye on the hacked cameras throughout the facility, as well as all the crew’s cameras. Hood, he starts having one of his Siobhan hallucinations, seeing her everywhere. Simultaneously, Job gets attacked by a soldier, going one on one, hand to fist. After too long Hood snaps out of it and goes running to help his old pal. His guilt laden brain nearly caused a lot of shit.
On their way out, the crew has to make sure Colonel Stowe (Langley Kirkwood) and his men don’t lock them down, after the military discovers someone’s got them under siege. This causes Hood and Co – mostly Hood – to make noise, leading to a gunfight.
Everyone makes it back to the vehicle. Not before Hood winds up in a close confrontation with Stowe who nearly takes him down. They blow the bomb set in the tunnel, and Hood uses the smoke to escape nearly getting himself killed in the process. Stowe gets up in the vehicle with them and almost gets the upper hand. But they manage to toss him outside, speeding away. Close fucking call.
Pic 3The memory of Siobhan is everywhere. Even Deputy Brock (Matt Servitto) mourns her loss with great grief. Wanting Chayton to pay badly. Worse is the fact her memory lingering with Hood almost got them all caught, or killed. After their mission’s complete Job is not happy with the way things went, and Hood.. well, he’s still having visions. They won’t likely stop any time soon. At least he now knows more from Aimee on Chayton, the big obstacle in his existential way; the big man’s also killed the woman who helped him in her barn. Nasty.
It’s Brock and Hood on a road trip to New Orleans. Should be fun.
Pic 4Love this episode, because it’s one of the first big divides between Job and Hood which actually comes with consequence. This leads into some serious action and ramifications for them all. Next episode is “All the Wisdom I Got Left” and there’s plenty of intensity left to reveal in this season. The scene after the credits shows Stowe’s unstable headspace in a frightening few moments. He’s insane.

The Walking Dead – Season 3, Episode 11: “I Ain’t A Judas”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 3, Episode 11: “I Ain’t A Judas”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Angela Kang

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Home” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Clear” – click here
IMG_0047Rick (Andrew Lincoln) won’t run, neither with Glenn (Steven Yeun) or Daryl (Norman Reedus). But Merle (Michael Rooker) advises of the power of the Governor (David Morrissey). They could get starved out if they try staying. Then Hershel (Scott Wilson) finally lays down the line. Rick once said their group was “not a democracy” and that also comes with the responsibilities of said leadership implied.
Outside, trying to get his head right, Rick runs into his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), who says that he has to stop leading the group. He deserves to have a break, to rest. Not just body; his mind, most importantly. Perhaps out of anything this is what comes through to the man – from the mouths of babes.
IMG_0048For his part, the Governor is still brutal. Amongst his own people, as well. He says that “adolescence” is a “20th century invention” and why? Because he needs MEN and WOMEN to FIGHT. There’s a great parallel to be made between him and other likewise heartless modern Republicans. Willing to send anyone with a heartbeat and cognitive abilities to war. Milton (Dallas Roberts) clearly has reservations, and Andrea (Laurie Holden), well she is going to raise hell over the fact he’s planning to do more at the prison.
Over at the old building there’s trouble. Glenn and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) obviously don’t want Merle around, though Rick won’t offend Daryl by kicking his brother out. Surprisingly, Hershel says they shouldn’t underestimate Merle’s loyalty to Daryl. The old man talks with him, equally surprising is the fact the eldest Dixon knows the Bible, quoting scripture and finishing sentences for Hershel.
Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl continue to get closer. She has an optimistic point of view, glad that he’s back. He believes the prison is a “tomb.” Carol only wants him to make sure he doesn’t fall prey to Merle’s bad influence. Daryl’s a good man, she knows it; they all do.
At Woodbury, Andrea asks Milton about the plans at the prison. Then reveals she’s going there to talk to her friends. She wants him to help her out, to prevent other deaths by talking with Rick. Will he aid her? Or is he too far under the thumb of his master? I’d say the latter for now. Meanwhile, we always get these tiny glimpse into the Governor’s psychosis. They’re terrifying moments, often brief. Here we see him hold a lit match close to the bare, wounded eye, as if he’s about to cauterise the thing. Nasty. Great makeup effects work to boot!
IMG_0052Milton, of course, caves and tells the Governor. He’s asked to help her, to keep up the charade. He does, which requires having to help Andrea make a zombie on a leash like Michonne once did. They go at the dirty work, and it is DIRTY! Love it. Shows off some of the excellent effects, giving us a nice taste of zombie blood and gore. Certainly in part due to Greg Nicotero of KNB fame directing this episode.
Then they run into Tyrese (Chad L. Coleman), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and their crew – who look surprised at what they’re seeing, like you would. The new crew are happier to hear that Woodbury isn’t far, and Milton opts to bring them back while Andrea heads onward to her old pals.
In the prison there’s still tough times ahead. For instance, between Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Merle. He tries to clear the air, not necessarily apologising though relating it wasn’t anything personal. “Let bygones be bygones,” he hopes. This woman does not play that shit.
When Andrea arrives Rick & Co. come out to greet her at the gate, ready for anything. Weapons trained. They’re all worried, and Michonne is shocked to see Andrea, not exactly happy. She’s been in bed, literally, with a murderous animal.
Others receive her a little better, but Rick especially is hostile. Andrea’s caught up on the latest tragedies, who died, who’s lost limbs, so on. She also discovers more of the Governor’s lies. Still, they’re all fed up. “Were gonna kill him,” Rick tells her plainly. Whatever it takes. At the same time she’s sweet on him, calling him Phillip.
Back at Woodbury, Tyrese and his group relate they met a crazy man in a prison. This intrigues the Governor. Others in the group are keen to help with Rick. Although Tyrese and Sasha aren’t entirely comfortable, you can tell just by the look in their eyes.
IMG_0053When Andrea goes back to Woodbury she meets with the Governor, telling him they’re in squalor, that Michonne is there, too. He’s drinking, looking definitively sinister in the shadows of his apartment. I wonder, has the visit with her first post-apocalypse friends changed her mind? It doesn’t seem so, not right away. She falls right back into his arms again.
Beth (Emily Kinney) tries to keep spirits up, singing in the darkness of the prison. Giving the place a light bigger than any fire. It’s a teeny ray of hope. A ray of hope nonetheless. Meanwhile, Rick, Daryl, and Hershel weigh their options of what to do about their coming war. The leader says he’s going on a run, and also lays down the law about Merle; Daryl, the good man he is, understands. Everyone is at different places right now, stuck in the same location. Andrea could make a decision to kill the Governor, and doesn’t do it. It could end right there. Instead she allows more destruction to follow.
IMG_0057Always loved this episode. Such a juxtaposition of awful positions everyone is stuck in, from Rick and his mind, to Tyrese and Sasha hoping to fit in with a community, to Michonne and Merle in that prison, and so much more. Great writing from Angela Kang.
Next is “Clear” and there are many things poised to go down. But will they? Will the tension finally snap? Soon, my friends.

Breaking Bad – Season 3, Episode 5: “Más”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 3, Episode 5: “Más”
Directed by Johan Renck
Written by Moira Walley-Beckett

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Green Light” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Sunset” – click here
IMG_0030We start on a flashback to Walt (Bryan Cranston) when he gave Jesse (Aaron Paul) the money to buy an RV for them to cook. So, Jesse does the smart thing: he takes Combo (Rodney Rush) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) out to the strip club, for lap dances and “Don Perignom,” as he calls the champagne.
After the night’s over Jesse feels a bit shitty. Well Combo has the fix. His mom owns an RV. He takes the rest of Mr. Pinkman’s cash, after the funds were drained the night prior down to $1,400, and lets him take the RV off their hands. Without permission, naturally.
Ah, even the trusty meth lab has its backstory!
IMG_0031Skyler (Anna Gunn) still enjoys her getaways with Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) at his place. He has money, he doesn’t cook meth. What we see though isn’t all rosy. I don’t think that Skyler is as bad as most make her out. However, she’s still cheating on Walt. And her husband’s a bag of shit in his own way, he isn’t such a righteous guy. Remember that Mr. White could’ve swallowed his pride over Gretchen, he didn’t have to make meth. He chose this, and unfortunately cheating on him was the only way to truly get back at Walt right now.
Then there’s the situation with Jesse and Walt, the halved money for the recent deal. Saul (Bob Odenkirk) tries keeping the peace, stuck in the middle, as Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) plays a game pitting the two former partners against one another.
If the boys aren’t careful, they’ve got other problems, as well. Hank (Dean Norris) and Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) are scoping out RVs, narrowing down a list of vehicles. They mostly run in to people who aren’t, at all, cooking meth. Making things less and less credible all the time for poor Hank. Worst part is that we the audience know better, so it’s really agonising (in the right ways). At home, Marie (Betsy Brandt) can’t get anything out of her husband, either. Makes theirs a strained relationship, as he’s bottled up tighter than a pressed Mason jar.


Walt finally gets talking with Gus about his “ploy” to get him back cooking. But the thing which is clear is the fact Walt can’t let go of the business. He can’t help ragging on Jesse, for not cooking the product as good as himself. What Gus does is use the man’s hubris against him. Smart as he is, Walt is so full of it that he can’t resist falling into the trap. Because what’s waiting for him is the opportunity of a lifetime.
He’s taken to an industrial laundromat Gus owns. There, behind a piece of machinery, they go downstairs to a lab that’s been setup, top of the line and state of the art equipment. Like Christmas for the chemistry nerd. Walt gets an instant science-erection. Not just the lab. There’s no way to trace the chemicals, as they’re ordered in for the laundry service, employees are trustworthy and trained, chemicals are filtered out with the laundromat steam.
Walt still refuses. What will make him break?
At home things aren’t as bad, though not good. Love the imagery in one shot at the dinner table: Walt on one end of the table and Skyler at the other, a wall between them literally dividing them as is the wall of their own choices, their mistakes, so on. One great thing about Breaking Bad is the use of visuals, in many forms. This being one fine example. Something so simple becomes powerfully resonant in terms of themes.
IMG_0035At the office Steve’s being celebrated as he prepares to take the place of Hank in El Paso. Poor Agent Schrader. He looks crazy to others, and in some ways weak. I can’t blame him not wanting to go back after seeing what he saw, a head on a tortoise exploding and maiming, killing people? That’s fucked up. All the same law enforcement is what he chose, DEA at that. Furthermore, Hank’s inability to deal with his problems and talk, to anybody let alone a doctor of any kind makes it the hardest. Although he’s validated when getting himself closer to that RV. Baby steps.
In other news, Walt is granting Skyler the divorce for which she asked. But does she still want it?
Back to Jesse and Saul, who’ve got a meeting on the books with Mr. White. They have to talk about the halved cash and what’s to be done. No love between the two former partners, that’s a definite. Rather than comply with any of what Jesse wants, Walt has decided otherwise. He gives back the half of the money and he’s going back in business with Gus. $3 million dollars for three months of work with only 5% going to Saul.
Walt (to Jesse): “Im in, youre out.”
When Hank goes to see a Mrs. Ortega about her RV, we see it’s the same place where Combo took the one he gave to Jesse. From his dear ole mama. Closer and closer we see our man Hank getting nearer to Jesse. In turn, he gets closer to Heisenberg, his own brother-in-law.
IMG_0037Another damn good episode. Lots of tension building between Jesse and Walt, which isn’t anything new. The steam is getting ready to release, and things will implode eventually. One way or another.
Next episode is “Sunset” and we’re also getting closer to another implosion, or explosion, in Hank Schrader.

KING COBRA’s True Crime Penetrates the Broken Heart of Gay Porn

King Cobra. 2016. Directed & Written by Justin Kelly; based on the book from Andrew E. Stoner & Peter A. Conway.
Starring Garrett Clayton, Christian Slater, Molly Ringwald, James Kelley, Keegan Allen, James Franco, Robby Johnson, Rosemary Howard, & Spencer Rocco Lofranco.
RabbitBandini Productions/Yale Productions/SSS Entertainment
Not Rated. 91 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 2.54.37 PMBefore I heard of this Franco-produced flick I’d not actually heard of the real life owner of Cobra Video, Bryan Kocis. He founded the gay porn studio, but also dealt with various legal struggles throughout his life: from charges of sexual assault on a minor, corruption of a minor, to bankruptcy and more. A difficult life, indeed. If even the basics of this tale are true, Kocis was a deviant who believed he fell in love, all the while exploiting the boy he said he cared about.
King Cobra is a fast tracked version of the Kocis story, with Christian Slater playing a stand-in for the real man, a man named Stephen. The object of his affection? Sean Paul Lockhart, a.k.a gay pornstar Brent Corrigan; played by baby-faced Garrett Clayton. What comes out is a story full of themes from the post-modern American dream to obsession to the struggle for love in industry where people aren’t people, they’re merely objects to be owned; by a producer, by millions.
Going in I thought there’d be a cheap exploitation aspect to the film. Not saying there isn’t a fair bit of skin. Director-writer Justin Kelly includes as much as he has to, in order to further explore the betrayal and deception at the heart of the story. And this, above all, is what matters most – the broken hearts left behind in the wake of the porn industry.
It’s known that the real Lockhart has said this story has “contempt for queer culture” and that it mocks pornography. The first I don’t agree with, whatsoever. Especially when the men are shown in an honest light, at all angles, never judged. As for the mockery of porn, I don’t agree; however, I do think it’s critical of the industry. Of how we allow the buying and selling of people, all culminating in the shocking real events that the story illustrates so vivid.
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 2.57.46 PMThe dark side of the industry is in full effect throughout King Cobra. Aside from the relationship between fictional Kocis and Lockhart, which brings up issues of sex with a minor, the plot goes even darker with Joe (James Franco) and Harlow (Keegan Allen); most of all the latter. Harlow’s story is sad – the saddest – full of despair and loneliness and a search for happiness that’ll surely never end. The hurt of his character is terrifyingly real, and Allen plays him with a haunting, dead-eyed look.
Harlow and Joe represent the desperate side of the industry, the men who resort to prostituting themselves. On the other side, Stephen’s obsession with Lockhart turns their relationship into one of pimp and prostitute, too. Like a pimp, Stephen wants total control over Brent, so much so he makes the whole thing into a personal and legal battle; something which goes terribly wrong, for all of them. Meanwhile there’s Lockhart in the middle just trying to make money and find a nice man. Like a postmodern American DreamNightmare.
Moreover, Stephen represents a side of the gay community we don’t often see when we get those normal, positive looks at regular gay men and lesbian women (which are important in their own ways for representation). What he, and his real life counterpart Kocis, illustrate is how some men almost go back into the closet even though they’re out. They don’t fully accept themselves. In his case, it’s because he likes underage boys. It gets so bad that Stephen lives in a “cookie cutter community” and he’s there amongst his neighbours, all the while he takes Brent and other young men inside, out by the pool, and films them fucking. He lives in the open, though keeps a barrier up between him and the world.
KingCobraImmediately, the stylised cinematography with its neon glow and filtered shots grabs attention. We feel as if we’re in an actual porno most times, not from the actual bare skin onscreen but the visual style. At other times the frames are draped in shadow, the way most of the characters are all under a cloak of darkness, living their lives on camera yet also behind it in the figurative dark spaces of life from one trick to the next.
The performances hooked me in. Allen is my favourite, he’s intense and brooding without being overtly animated; he makes you feel the darkness of his character Marlow. Alongside him as Joe, the ever interesting Franco provides us with a ferocious, unrelenting character whose sexual appetite does not mix well with business.
Still, the best performance of all has to be from Slater; his late career is proving full of surprises from Nymphomaniac to Mr. Robot and this film. Stephen isn’t a likeable character, he’s a sleazy guy. But Slater doesn’t play him sleazy, he somehow imbues the guy with a heart, no matter how dark. He’s a desperately clingy man, one who uses his powerful position as producer to rope in young boys with whom he can play, and hopefully control. He’s sad, he’s nasty. And there’s so much humanity to this otherwise monstrous man with Slater in the role.
What I love most about the character is that the writing allows him to be who he is, instead of trying to pretend like the gay community can’t have any bad apples. The real Lockhart’s criticism feels unfair, though admittedly I’m not a gay man and so my opinion isn’t the be all, end all. That being said, I think the best representation for any community, any race (et cetera), also involves those bad characters along with the good.
Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 3.45.27 PMThere’s a major loss of innocence in King Cobra. One thing Marlow makes very clear is that everyone has a story. What people see on that screen, the flesh and the orgasms, is the end result of victimisation, of broken hearts and broken dreams. It is what comes at the end of a long road of pain. I don’t care if you think that’s not cool of me. Personally, I don’t support the porn industry. Nor do I judge anybody; I used to watch it, then awhile back made a personal pledge not to engage with it any longer. I just don’t think it’s healthy, you can’t fault me for that.
Neither can you fault the film. These characters are real people, if not dramatised for the sake of entertainment. Their story is largely real and is, aside from what actually happened to Kocis a.k.a Stephen, also the story of many others who’ve been sucked into the undertow of the exploitative, violent industry of pornography.
King Cobra doesn’t ask or answer any big questions. It looks deeply at the damage done to people who’ve fallen prey to the predators in the industry, as well as those who were preyed upon before and then came to the industry later only to be re-victimised. If you have a level head about the topic in general, this movie’s for you. There isn’t any judgement. Then again, people like Kocis deserved to be judged, only they don’t deserve what he got, either.

You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 premiere, “Offred” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Late” – click here
Pic 1Offred (Elisabeth Moss) tries to escape the breeding rape of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), held down by his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The sex is not just a visceral sexual assault. It is symbolic of women like Serena who’ve been complicit with the patriarchy, holding other women down figuratively, literally, in every kind of way. A brilliantly disturbing metaphor.
Under his eye
Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) gets closer to Offred, they talk of who they were before they were trapped in that nation-state of misogyny. We find out that churches are being dismantled, everywhere. And so do they still worship God? They read scripture, they’re Conservative people. What exactly is the patriarchal nation-state up to? Regardless of that Ofglen tells Offred about a “network” of women. They’re ultra secretive, obviously.
Offred: “There has to be an us because now there is a them.”
Pic 1ANot entirely sure what Nick (Max Minghella) is doing, if he’s a force of good or another arm of the male authority. He seems to like Offred, but again it could be less than valiant. He’s not exactly a Commander, a higher-up. He is the proletariat, a worker. He relays to Offred that Commander Waterford has called to see her. She’s ushered into the birthmobile by Rita (Amanda Brugel); the thing is like a hearse, which is brutally ironic. At once, life and death touches. They are, in fact, living death.
Offred: “Theres a smell coming from that room. Something primal. Its the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. Its the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth once, before she was spade. Its the smell of genesis.”
Offred – or, June, as she was – flashes back to when she was pregnant, before everything changed. It’s a creepy atmosphere, as people chant outside the hospital, praying for the babies in the face of the fertility plague. But no time for daydreaming, June! Real life is too nasty now to let daydreams take over long. The atmosphere is creepier in the present, as the infertile wives pamper the handmaids getting ready to give birth, a ritualistic process from which the women almost derive pleasure. So odd. They’re all led into a room where Janine (Madeline Brewer) is in labour. Everybody tells her to breathe, calming her down. Although Offred does the most for her, in less creeper fashion.
Flashbacks to June in the hospital post-birth show us how bad the fertility plague became; her baby Hannah was the only one to have survived while she was there, others dying. A sad image shows rows of empty basins in the children’s ward where June walks aimlessly. Like rows of graves in a cemetery.


Offred does well priming herself to survive that brutal place. She does what she’s supposed to do with grim servitude. She keeps her June alive by smiling in the mirror, remembering who she is on the inside. As long as she doesn’t forget, June’s never lost to Offred.
In the room with Janine another woman is brought in and the two of them push, breath, going through the birthing process with the aid of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Serena and the infertile wives. Turns out the other woman is one of the infertile wives; they go through the whole thing as if actually pregnant, an unsettling ritual. It’s scary to watch. As if a church service has gone wild, the chanting like a hymn. And when a “fine and healthy girl” is born they rejoice. In the midst of all the cruelty, the terror, is that miracle of birth; life in the fields of death.
Such raw subject matter in a dystopian setting. The baby is ripped from Janine, given to the infertile woman, and she lays in bed with it as if she’d just given birth herself. Whoa. Margaret Atwood’s source novel expertly scared already, disturbing and all too prescient. With visuals, the score, the expertly acted characters, it’s all so effective.
We flashback again to June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) in the hospital, before the fall of America. A woman’s broken in and stolen Hannah. This is what the infertility plague did to people, the mania it caused. Luckily they get the child back. This illustrates the terrifying climate before the authoritarian iron fist crushed American women into submission; they were already suffering, now they suffer more.
Pic 3Janine is still seen as useful. She has to breastfeed the child before she’ll be torn away once more. She sings Bob Marley to her daughter. That intimate connection between mother and child is too strong a bond to simply break with one snap. There’ll be more trouble with this concept as the episodes progress.
Beyond the Commanders door” is somewhere nobody, not even Serena goes. Offred has been summoned to see him. She only assumes something bad, relating it to the typical horror trope of a young woman stupidly descending into a dark basement believing her boyfriend is there, only to meet a bloody end; maybe allegorically, she’s correct. In she goes, sitting with Waterford. They play Scrabble together, in expected awkwardness. Like a good citizen, she spells out NATION first on the board. After they finish she even tries out humour on him; he enjoys it. They plan on another date when he’s back from out of town. Creepy, yet you can see Offred working to figure out what she can do to keep herself alive in that tyrannical palace and city.
Most interesting is that Offred is finally rediscovering her power as a woman. Although she’s in this weakened state because of the ruling class, she starts figuring out that she still holds sway over men, because they are the weak ones. They’re the ones who’ve done this because they are afraid of the power of women, what they hold over them with their sexuality; it’s all they can think of, the wretched, oppressive patriarchy of that place. But a wrench is thrown in the mix, too. No longer is Offred paired with Ofglen, another woman comes in her place. Well, she’s Ofglen; just not the same one.
Things are… never as they seem.


What a great episode to follow-up on the first! I loved it. Can’t get enough already, I’m hooked. You’ll love it, too. Especially if you’re a fan of Atwood’s book.
Next episode is “Late” and it promises more terror, more dark comedy, more powerhouse acting and directing, as well.

Lynch’s BLUE VELVET is Like Disturbing(ly Good) Literature

Blue Velvet. 1986. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Priscilla Pointer, Frances Bay, Brad Dourif, & Jack Nance.
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)
Rated R. 120 minutes.
Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
Pic 1David Lynch is one of my favourite filmmakers, his directing and writing equally fantastic. My dad told me about Twin Peaks when I was young (it was on TV when I was about five years old), so in my teenage years I discovered its magic. This lead to seeing Eraserhead with a few friends in a dim lit basement, which blew my mind. On and on through Lynch’s catalogue of work I went, eventually watching his early short films opening up a whole other door into his mind as an artist.
Blue Velvet is a surreal film. Not as steeped in it as much as his other work, though full of surrealism nonetheless. It’s through the absurd Lynch taps into this element, alongside his modern noir-ish plot that digs deep into the underbelly of idyllic American life. What makes the movie so exciting is the dangerous story, looking at this darker side of suburbia in a small logging town, fittingly named Lumberton.
Lynch has said this film inspired Twin Peaks; the way in which he blends the darkness with the absurdism is strangely compelling. There’s an explicit scene or two, depravity taking the reins in violent fashion. Mostly, Blue Velvet takes place in a space where violence is always possible, never far; its threat is debilitating to the progression of everything from innocence to love. The central character Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds himself pitted against the psychotic, Freudian villain Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), faced with either accepting his role in a hierarchy of violent men or rejecting the male violence which underpins the light and goodness of Lumberton.
Pic 2The now iconic opening of the film is perfect, designed like the meticulous opening sentence of a piece of great literature. Lynch starts with those typical images of American life, things he remembers from the 1950s: white picket fence, bright red firetruck with waving firemen followed by the bright red roses of a luscious garden, the beautiful houses like boxes in a row.
He immediately smashes the gorgeous, American Dream-type feeling with Mr. Beaumont, Jeffrey’s father, having a stroke while watering the garden. As if innocence is starting to shatter with it, a child in a diaper wanders up while the man seizes on the lawn. The hose spurts water, and Lynch goes into a slow motion shot, the sound likewise slowed – the dog snaps at the water’s stream, his face looking vicious and snarling, his sounds become sinister. What a perfectly thematic opener. I honestly don’t know how this could’ve been improved; because it couldn’t.
This first sequence is a thesis for Blue Velvet, ending in its statement where we zoom in and the camera takes us into the grass, into the dirt, right to the insects crawling in the earth. An image that sticks with us, coming up again in the end. But it effectively shows us what Lynch is doing, and plans to do throughout the plot – put a microscope over the lives of those in a quaint town. In this story, that involves a young man under threat of violence invading his life, maybe even his very soul.
Pic 2AIts a strange world, isnt it?”
Jeffrey’s dropped into a Freudian nightmare of a world, perhaps one to which Oedipus could relate; in a symbolic sense, anyways. He is lured into the dark side of his town by a sliced off ear, yet more importantly the story begins with his father’s brutal stroke. He loses the male influence in his life, falling prey to corruption.
Frank’s arrival is surreal in itself. He switches between two personas – Daddy and Baby. He treats Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) as Mother. At the sight of her vagina, and with a gas mask dose of amyl nitrite, he goes from Daddy to Baby, then back again. Likewise, after there’s a change in Jeffrey. Without his actual father around he adopts Frank, albeit subconsciously (perfect for a Freudian analysis), as Daddy. And where his family didn’t introduce him to the darker side of Lumberton, Dorothy and Frank become his surrogate parents, leading him down the garden path to the truth; no matter how disturbing.
This is quickly evident when he leaves Dorothy’s apartment following the first time we meet Frank in his erotic rage. We’re whisked directly to a dream sequence of Jeffrey remembering the events, then he wakes and there’s a strange moment where he seems relieved, touching the wall near a figure: the figure may be, to him, something else entirely but it looks like a vagina dentata sort of image. The influence of Daddy is transforming Jeffrey’s image of women into something dangerous; tying into one of the film’s themes being his journey, as a young man, trying to reject the violence of the male gender through the lens of how his surrogate Daddy treats the surrogate Mother.


Jeffrey walks to and from the hospital during the day and everything is bright, beautiful, positive. In the evening this changes, suddenly even the normal things don’t feel right. For instance, a moment many never catch when the first night scene sees Jeffrey out for a walk in his neighbourhood: a man stands in the grass as his dog on a leash stands on the sidewalk, a reverse of what you’d see like he’s being walked, you almost expect him to squat, drop a coil. One early indication of the surrealism Lynch employs.
Part of the surrealism is that idea of the twisted, half-Freudian and half-Oedipal journey on which Jeffrey goes. Because not only does the story dive into the underbelly of Lumberton, the story itself dives into the subconscious mind. This is best represented in the shot from Lynch after Jeffrey’s discovery of the ear – the camera closes in, further and further, right into the ear canal; figuratively, and literally because the orifice is an ear, into the mind. So, our trusty director dips us into that subconscious, in every way. Once you begin peeling back the layers they shed like skin.
The other surreal moments, the best, involve Frank most of all. First, there’s his amyl nitrite through the gas mask. On the surface that’s absurd alone, but coupled with the whole Daddy idea, you see that Jeffrey’s father has to breathe through a tube while Frank uses the surgical gas mask to inhale his drugs; a weird double image. The doubling continues, too. Frank is captivated with music, in particular the song “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton and Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” – the doubles return here, with Dorothy singing Vinton, suave Ben (Dean Stockwell) singing Orbison. And Stockwell’s little performance is so unnervingly odd. Strangely enough, the scene that weirds me out most. We see him singing, holding an electrical cord lamp lighting his face, and Frank stares at him, mouthing Orbison’s words, almost in a trance. An addition to the psychosis of Frank, suggesting something behind his fixation that we don’t need to know to find terrifying.


The violence is likely the most surreal of all: the Man in Yellow is dead on his feet, in literal fashion; Lynch shows us a close-up of Dorothy’s chipped tooth in her red lipstick-ed mouth then a little later Frank paints Jeffrey with lipstick and slaps him around, too; Frank’s crew stands by watching in complacence as he commits various unpredictable acts in a violent rage. Just as surreal as the absurdist situations in which Jeffrey finds himself throughout the film, from finding an ear in a field (the ants call to mind an image from 1929’s silent short film Un Chien Andalou) to witnessing the ritualistic sexual assault by Frank on Dorothy.
One of the reasons Lynch’s film acts as an excellent piece of visual literature is how he ties off the imagery. Whereas in the first couple scenes we go into the dead ear’s canal, the camera takes us back out of the ear later, except it’s Jeffrey’s ear, alive and in the sun; a transformative journey, from darkness into the light (a visual motif we see in the use of light Lynch employs in many scenes). In addition, the rightful Mother and Daddy are restored once Frank is dead; Mr. Beaumont is recovering well, the sun is shining, the backyards of suburbia are back to their dreamy quality again. Finally, while the darkness still exists – the robins feed on the bugs, the extent of Frank’s connections and the bad people in Lumberton remain unknown – a lightness is restored.
These elements help Lynch suture together his masterpiece of neo-noir surrealism. One of the greatest films made in the 20th century, a work of dangerous art.

SPLIT’s Horror is Part Shyamalan Style & Part Terrifying McAvoy

Split. 2017. Directed & Written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Izzie Coffey, Brad William Henke, & Sebastian Arcelus.
Blumhouse Productions/Blinding Edge Pictures
Rated PG-13. 117 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER SplitPlenty of people wrote M. Night Shyamalan off long ago. I agree that The Happening-era was grim. But I was one of the few who enjoyed Lady in the Water, and I still love The Village. Since I first saw The Sixth Sense and then Unbreakable the year after in theatre, where both blew me away equally, Shyamalan’s forever been a filmmaker I keep my eye on.
When he came back swinging with The Visit, another one I LOVED, I knew he’d again begin impressing us all. Now, he’s given us Split; his best film to date.
The talk I’ve seen has mostly, rightfully, centred around the lead performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. What impressed me even above their incredible work is how confident Shyamalan is, once more, in his directorial abilities. No more is he merely relying on twists, which seems to be where he went wrong for a while; focusing too hard on surprising people when his best work has always been style.
Well, he’s provided plenty style on which the audience can feast, conjuring up pure suspense and terror like the magician we know he can be, and along the way he still twists and turns a bit for good measure.
Split1First thing impressed me was the dialogue, particularly from the three young girls (Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, & Jessica Sula). There are so many typical films where people say the same old lines, in the same way. Far too much horror where writers – without irony like Wes Craven or The Cabin in the Woods – have their characters doing unbelievably stupid things, past the point of stretching our disbelief. The girls are logical, for the most part, and especially Casey (Taylor-Joy), whose past informs her present.
Casey is who roots the entire film, despite McAvoy’s ecstatic and dark work as the ultra-interesting villainous character. She is who provides us with an emotional olive branch into the plot and the story’s arc. Her character immediately draws the audience into her emotions, her personal history. Right from the moment you see her, the dialogue introduces us to the character, it’s obvious there is a well of secrets behind her eyes. Taylor-Joy is someone I’m excited to see more of, between this and The Witch she’s proven herself as an actress whose abilities are well beyond her years. Also love to see a legitimately excellent acting talent whose interests, at least for the time being, lie in the horror genre.
Split2Shyamalan’s directing has never been better. Much as I love The Sixth SenseUnbreakable even more than that, he tops himself here in a number of ways. The camera movements are spectacular in their revelatory motions, with suspense leering around each corner. He manages to do jump scare-like moments without them feeling stale like they do in lesser horror pictures. Because it’s in the tension.
For instance, McAvoy’s multiple personalities creep into the frame, both literally in his actions and figuratively through the lens of the camera. Sometimes it’s him lurking into frame, such as when The Beast finally appears in full to us; other times the camera cuts or pans to a revelation of a personality, or we get to see other characters’ reactions to him which elevates the shock to a much higher level.
When we first see The Beast up close – his skin, his muscles, his arms, then finally his face – it’s a genius sequence. Poor Dr. Karen Fletcher (the always awesome Betty Buckley) is the one to experience the plot moment, as we watch with eyes wide in horror. And what happens when he turns up, I won’t ruin; it is savage, yet subtle and eerie to the point of a chill running up the spine. Exciting stuff, my favourite scene by far.
Another moment I love – SPOILER ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD! – is the end, before the very final scene, when Crumb has escaped. He’s talking in his various personalities, and Shyamalan uses the mirrors around him to frame the faces, as if they’re all in the room despite being inside one brain. Simple, effective use of reflections which reflect the multiple personalities.
Screen Shot 2017-04-22 at 10.56.59 PMWhereas Taylor-Joy’s Casey is the emotional counterweight of the story, giving us someone with which to spend the wild ride, McAvoy’s performance as Crumb (and his 20-odd other personalities) is a shining star of the film. He gets into a mental and physical space that we only see every so often from actors, whether it’s De Niro in Raging Bull, Bale in The Machinist or any other similar role.
His multiple personality disorder as the villain is aided by the intensity of his dedication, in that he gets to a point where every personality stemming from the character of Crumb has different facial ticks, they use mannerisms respectively according to their affect, the inflection in their voices change and one even has a speech impediment, another uses McAvoy’s natural accent while the Dennis personality has an unsettling, baritone-d accent different from the others, too.
Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Ahead!: There’s a moment with Dr. Fletcher when Barry, the sweet fashion designer, reveals that it’s actually Dennis who’s taken “the light” during their therapy session. McAvoy uses his face in such a way that you forget about the dialogue, you pay less attention to any sound, then you zero in on his expression. Gradually his face melts from Barry’s toothy smile to the more serious, sombre look of Dennis, and I’m telling you, it is enough to raise the hairs on your arms.
Split4This is a 5-star affair. All the way. There’s not a thing I feel needed changing, I’m of the belief that M. Night Shyamalan’s turned a corner. Realising those twists, while awesome when executed correctly, aren’t the answer to his filmmaking magic, he’s perfecting his best capabilities through a combination of storytelling and style. And yes, for a couple flicks he fell off track. He either went one way or the other, instead of using his gifts in tandem.
Most of all, the guy is an original filmmaker. Even his failures show promise because of the fact he swings for the fences, every last chance at bat. Hopefully the renewed confidence Shyamalan has obviously felt since The Visit scared up a storm will continue to allow his best foot to step forward on his next project. Something I don’t doubt, not for a second.

Fargo – Season 3, Episode 1: “The Law of Vacant Places”

FX’s Fargo
Season 3, Episode 1: “The Law of Vacant Places”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “Palindrome” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Principle of Restricted Choice” – click here
Pic 1Year 3.
1988 in East Berlin. A man is interviewed by an officer, though claims he’s not who officer believes he is, a man named Yuri Gurka. Seems they’ve got a problem. “That state would have to be wrong” for all this to be an issue. Surely, that can’t be correct, can it? I see where this is headed. There’s a murder, which puts this poor man, not Yuri, at a disadvantage when up against the crumbling Soviet.
Now, we head into Minnesota during 2010 for our current timeline story.
Pic 1AEmmit Stussy (Ewan McGregor) and Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) are conducting a bit of business, as a 25th anniversary party for Emmit and his wife Stella. Afterwards the celebration goes on happily. In attendance is their daughter Grace (Caitlynne Medrek), as well as brother Ray (also Ewan McGregor). And the much more greasy-looking brother is there to get a meeting with Sy and Emmit. It’s been some time, evidently.
They do a little catching up, awkward as that goes. The tension is clear. Ray obviously feels lower class compared to his brother; Sy’s like the best friend who’s more like a brother than the brother himself. We’re also introduced to Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and the fact Ray wants to get her an engagement ring. This brings up issues of money, plus some betrayal over a stamp collection, “vintage” stuff worth tons of cash.
The relationship between Nikki and Ray is a weird one. Likely she’s using him, but too early to judge. He’s a cagey one, too. So, I wouldn’t count anything out. Nikki says they’re “simpatico to the point of spooky” and he’s inclined to agree. Be interesting to watch more of them together, love McGregor and Winstead’s odd chemistry.


Ray is a parole officer – where he met his latest girlfriend – spending his days drowning in paperwork and piss. No short of characters he encounters. And no doubt we’ll see some kind of ethical murkiness rear its head; well, more than already with Nikki. You can’t help imagine what kind of plans Noah Hawley has for a main character with that profession in his quirky, twisted little world of Fargo.
At a bar Ray meets with Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy) who’s recently failed a piss test. This P.O is a little more lenient on those under his care. He wants Maurice to help him out with a robbery; quid pro quo, poof, vamoose, and the problems go away. If he can get his hands on the stamp in Emmit’s office.
Sy and Emmit have business to take care of late in the evening. Simultaneously, Maurice lurks around waiting for the right time to strike on his mission; he’s a little busy smoking a joint and talking to his shrink via speaker phone in the car. Then he loses the paper on which Ray wrote the address; it flies out the window, into the snowy roadside. Does he remember? Or will this cause unintended consequences? I’d vote on the latter.
When Emmit gets to the office he finds V.M. Varga (David Thewlis) waiting for him. He’s from their lender, Narwahl. Says they don’t need to pay back the money, apparently. It’s an “investment” he tells them. Followed by cryptic talk of “singularity” and “continuity.” Hmm, a few strings attached. Seems the boys got in over their head and didn’t ask questions before jumping in deep.


Chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) is at home celebrating her son Nathan’s (Graham Verchere) birthday. They’ve got a bit of a fractured family; modern by most standards. Another interesting family for the series.
A great tune, as always, plays (Adriano Celetano – “Prisencolinensinainciusol“) us through while cards are being dealt in a regional tournament. Dream team Swango and Stussy hit the tables together to make themselves a big a payday.
Poor, stoned Maurice, searching out the address he lost, remembering it incorrectly and headed in the wrong direction. Headed right for Eden Valley, where Gloria’s the law. Then the guy winds up going to Ennis Stussy’s – no relation to the twins, far as we know – place, where Gloria just left. She turns back to get the model he made for her boy, then finds the place in shambles, door open. The old man taped to a chair, dead. After looking around awhile she locates a hidden compartment in the floor with a box in it; inside, old books, a figure, and more.
When Maurice goes to see Ray, things are messy. The misunderstandings are only just beginning to pile up. It’s about to get wild, and nasty. Particularly when the parolee goes crazy on him, pulling a gun. However, Nikki’s always thinking. As Maurice leaves the apartment, they drop an air conditioner on his head obliterating him. They’ve got a plan and everything. A convenient way out.


This is the beginning of what’s sure to be an interesting Season 3. Such a great premiere, and I know there’s even greater things to come.
Not sure how the East Berlin moment earlier plays into the whole thing, though there’s a Russian connection: Maurice is wearing a shirt in the bar with RUSSIA written on it; maybe nothing, or maybe something. Who knows.

Heavy Metal Possession in THE DEVIL’S CANDY

The Devil’s Candy. 2017. Directed & Written by Sean Byrne.
Starring Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Pruitt Taylor Vince, & Kiara Glasco.
Snoot Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 79 minutes.
Horror

★★★★1/2
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.56.09 AMSean Byrne’s debut feature The Loved Ones rocked me in 2009. It was unique and horrifying. I knew he’d give us more terror eventually. Although I didn’t think it would take another 6 years. When you wait that long and the product ends up being something altogether eerie, you thank a writer-director who so obviously digs the genre.
The Devil’s Candy gives us equal parts beauty and horror. There’s heavy metal, there’s painting, there’s a troubled father-daughter relationship and a fun family at the centre of the plot. There’s also three excellent performances from Ethan Embry, Kiara Glasco, and one of the great unsung character actors possibly every, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
What’s most exciting about Byrne’s follow-up feature is the take on possession. So many horrors out there try to do the sub-genre justice by giving their own take on the concept of demonic possession, but many of those slip into the pitfalls of a typical Exorcist rip-off. Byrne avoids that by going a whole other route, bringing the supernatural straight into collision with utterly human, family drama with an innovative twist.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 8.57.06 AMI didnt mean to do this
I always love when demonic possession is more than some poor, helpless young person is seized by the devil, flopping around on the floor or speaking another language or contorting into a weird human-limbed spider. A possession story becomes something else entirely when the demonic influence helps the possessed acquire wealth (fame/anything similar). This makes the character of Jesse’s (Embry) paintings like an unwitting, unspoken pact with the devil.
On the other side is Ray (Vince), whose encounter with Satan is entirely different. He’s a man with mental difficulties to begin, then he has to contend with the voice of the devil whispering in his ear. Whereas Jesse sort of takes it like a voice of inspiration, if not a sinister one, for Ray it’s like torture.
Heavy metal is the link. While Jesse listens to metal, as he paints and driving with his daughter Zooey (Glasco), Ray uses it as a means of drowning out the voice of Satan in his head. He plays the guitar, a flying V in fact, strumming deep, droning, distorted chords, which doesn’t just make his house unpleasant, it eventually draws the police. Just a whole mess of things going on, all of which add to the atmosphere of terror.
Screenshot 2017-04-12 at 12.13.17 AM
Embry and I follow one another on Twitter. I asked him if he was wearing a Sunn O))) shirt, which he confirmed, and he also told me that, he believes, the voice of Satan here is likewise provided by the band.
Brings me to one of the things I find so unsettling about the film – the sound design. At certain moments we hear the low, rumbling voice of Satan speaking to his pawns. It’s the absolute perfect voice. Sort of rattles your bones listening to it. Along with Ray’s power chords, the heavy metal soundtrack, the sound design and the voice itself are part of the dreadful feeling the film evokes at every turn.
The storytelling is a large part of The Devil’s Candy‘s success as a horror that works hard to unnerve its audience, frame by frame, building to a roar. In parallel, we watch the stories of Ray and Jesse, like opposite ends of a spectrum. Then the paintings Jesse creates in a fugue of possession reflect the actions and events in Ray’s life, giving the parallel plots a whole new level of meaning.
A favourite scene of mine is the montage sequence of the painting Jesse works on. The paint, the brushes, the sloppy wet sounds of them together – these are, again, paralleled with the sounds of Ray with his wet mop sloshing around, soaking up blood. The whole sequence is amazingly edited. On top of that the score and the sound design make it chilling.
Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 9.56.06 AMByrne does a fantastic job providing us with an alternative story about possession and occult horror. Not saying he’s reinvented the wheel. But god damn me to hell if he doesn’t offer up a horror that doesn’t take the same old beaten path. Peppered with equally fantastic performances, The Devil’s Candy is a personal favourite of mine since 2000.
A huge selling point is the chemistry between Embry and Glasco. Their relationship as father and daughter is strained, though not past the point of no return. There’s a breaking point, yes. And that plays its own part in their relationship. What I dig is that they’re so natural. Embry’s not that old, so his character comes off as this hip guy who hasn’t exactly reconciled his hipness with also being a father; he’s a good dad, not perfect, and tries his best. For her part, Glasco plays the daughter well and her emotional range as an actress stacks up well against her adult counterparts.
From Sunn O))) in all forms – t-shirt, voice of Satan, soundtrack – to Embry and Glasco, as well as Pruitt Taylor Vince doing a bang up job as a seasoned character actor, to Sean Byrne and his atmospheric directing, The Devil’s Candy does what it sets out to do: unsettle and terrify. You don’t have to piss your pants to find something scary. What I find most unsettling about the film is the presentation of the devil’s influence, as something that simply cannot be stopped – won’t be stopped. And for once heavy metal isn’t the bringer of horror, it is a way for the horror to be evaded, a positive force between father and daughter. Underneath the possession stuff there’s a lot going on, too.

THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

The Walking Dead – Season 7, Episode 16: “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 16: “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Scott M. Gimple, Angela Kang, & Matthew Negrete

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Something They Need” – click here
Pic 1Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) is on the edge of life and death. I only hope she holds on. Will she? Or has she decided to choose death, once and for all? She has a dream, of being back with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). In their home at Alexandria. Quickly, she’s back with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). He’s brought her something to eat. And he has plans to use her to get things “back on track” – whatever that means, we’ll soon find out. She even gets a blueberry, smiley face pancake with eggs and fruit for breakfast. Yum. The sinister plot of Negan begins.
Pic 1ABack at Alexandria, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) has his gun on Dwight (Austin Amelio), who says he only wants things with Negan and The Saviors to end. It’s all pretty tough, Daryl (Norman Reedus) doesn’t like it, neither does Tara (Alanna Masterson). Nobody really trusts him, even though he gives a passionate speech about why he’s done what he’s done. Except Daryl does know more than the others about him, about his wife, what happened with Negan. They also worry about Sasha, that Dwight may be their only lifeline to getting her back, as well as their best way to infiltrate the Sanctuary and end the reign of terror.
So they must prepare, one way or another, for Negan and his Saviors coming soon.
Poor Sasha, she keeps flashing back to Abraham. Not sure which existence is a dream. Flashing to Negan and his plan, his breakfast. Her mind is being absolutely tortured. She sees, more and more, there is no way forward with Negan other than “punishment” and death by Lucille. He wants three to die, but would settle for just one. And for now Sasha agrees: only one.
Negan (to Sasha): “Youve got me wrapped around your little finger, yknow that? And its not a man-woman thing. I mean, if you had a dick I would still have these feelings.”
Pic 2Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is figuring out what to do with Hilltop, with Gregory (Xander Berkeley) off elsewhere, and Jesus (Tom Payne) happy to help her with anything, glad to have her leading the place. What to do? They need to fight. Just depends on how, what they can contribute to help Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the rest at Alexandria in taking the fight to The Saviors and Negan. I have faith that Maggie can play a big part, she’s a force.
Then there’s another force of fucking nature – Carol (Melissa McBride). She and Ezekiel (Khary Peyton) and Morgan (Lennie James), her pals from the Kingdom are on the road together. Well, Morgan likes to go it alone, but they’re together in one sense. Ezekiel wants Morgan with them. Once again, the man cannot forgive himself or get past things long enough to help those around him. A trouble dude in troubled times. At least he has Carol and his pals from the Kingdom, and Shiva!
Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her people arrive, garbage trucks and all. They’re an odd bunch; Jadis says she wants to bang Rick later, which neither he nor Michonne like to hear. In other news, Daryl, Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Aaron (Ross Marquand) are wiring an explosive they’ll put to good use soon enough. At the same time, Negan and Co are held up in the road, coming across the downed trees knocked over by Dwight.


Sasha’s decided not to take that pill after all. What she’ll decide in the end ought to be interesting. In the meantime, her friends at Alexandria have readied for the coming fight, even Carl (Chandler Riggs) has himself an assault rifle. Everybody’s braced for war. As The Saviors and Negan arrive, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) is up in front with a megaphone greeting his old friends. Nobody’s impressed with that, particularly after he tells them: “Im Negan.” Rather than suffer any fools, they opt to set off their explosive. Instead nothing happens. Jadis and her crew turn their weapons on the Alexandrians, Dwight hops from the truck with Negan. No explosions. No surprise assault. Oh, fuck.
We win
The tables have turned, drastically. Rick is not happy, as Negan gloats with everyone on his side. He lays it on thick while the Alexandrians await whatever comes next. Then, Dwight and Simon (Steven Ogg) wheel out a casket. Inside is Sasha, says Negan. He’s going to take all the guns, whatever food they can get. Rick also much choose a victim for Lucille. Plus, Daryl and the pool table go, too. Or else Sasha and a few others die.


Rick demands to see her first. So, Negan opens the casket – we get another flash of Sasha and Abraham: “Its always for someone else,” he tells her; a resonant point about The Walking Dead as a series as a whole. We also see Eugene give Sasha an iPod for her ride in the casket. She still has that pill, too. And she takes Abraham’s words to heart, in the worst way possible. She swallows the pill.
When the door comes open, a zombie Sasha appears! She lunges at Negan, then Carl takes the first shot initiating total chaos amongst the crowds. Bullets fly everywhere. Michonne wrestles with the other sniper on the rooftop. Rosita takes a bullet as Tara helps her away from the action. Jadis and Rick face one another down at the wall’s top, then she fires a shot into his side, tossing him over.
With gunfire everywhere, the Alexandrians struggle to stay alive. Jadis brings Rick to Negan, dead bodies litter the streets. The Saviors have Carl, and it seems as if he’s the next target for Lucille. Furthermore, he wants to use the bat on Rick’s hands. “I guess I gotta start all over again,” he taunts Rick. In the distance he also believes he hears Michonne dying. Somehow he stands against the tide, strong: “Youre all already dead,” Rick tells Negan.
But before any more death can come, Shiva leaps in behind them and takes down a man, scaring The Saviors and Negan away. Ezekiel, Carol, Morgan, Maggie, they all appear to push back the villains. And though the biggest baddie’s run off, he’s taken aback by the tiger, the living widow of Glenn “guns blazin‘” and sent packing with his tail between his legs. Nice to see Morgan and Rick together again, as well. Fighting side by side.
Once the smoke clears, Alexandria still remains standing, though the threats likewise live on. And Michonne, she made it out alive, if not a bit worse for the wear. She hasn’t given up, either. Not one bit.
Pic 5Back at the Sanctuary, Negan’s wondering how Sasha actually died. Eugene bullshits saying it was probably suffocation in that casket, but the boss ain’t sold. Nevertheless, he’s prepared for war. Things in Season 8 will get fucking ugly.
Although with the force of The Saviors coming down upon them, Rick and Maggie and the rest are also prepared for war. They slipped this time, managing to regain their footing. Next time, I don’t think they’ll go in trusting another group. It’s all on them now. Alexandria is full of life, with all the groups in one place for a while, each ready to fight for the person next to them.


A great season. Loved this season finale, because we ended last season and began this one on a devastating note, a weak one for Rick and everyone around him. At the end of Season 7, they’ve all regained a strength, and some they didn’t know they had, which will serve them well. We needed this progression, and as Maggie points out in her ending monologue this all began so long ago, at the beginning when Rick and each of them decided to stand for the other, to help, to love, to protect, to fight on the one side

Father Gore’s Favourite 50+ Films Directed by Women

In celebration of International Women’s Day and also Women’s History Month, here’s a list of 50+ films directed by women that are downright spectacular. Spanning the genres from drama to horror to science fiction there’s something for everyone on this list.
We need more female artistry. Not only in independent cinema but in the system of filmmaking as a whole. These are just a fraction of the amazing stories women have brought to the medium.


Meshes of the Afternoon1) Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
An experimental short film from the first half of the 20th century co-directed by a married couple, Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. This one’s hard to explain. For a 14-minute flick this one requires multiple viewings. Very innovative, particularly for the ’40s, but honestly it’s generally an impressive short, even by today’s standards. A great surreal film.

The Night Porter2) The Night Porter (1974)
Directed and co-written by Liliana Cavani, this 1974 drama is one part eroticism, three parts disturbing psychological torture. Some consider this an exploitation film; I don’t agree. While it has erotic elements, and of course its heavy dose of Nazism, The Night Porter is about the lingering effects of the past on the present, how evil of a certain magnitude won’t ever wash away, and more. Sure, it’s a shocker of a movie on many levels. But trust me, Charlotte Rampling’s performance, Cavani’s direction, the compelling and disturbing story, they all add up to something perfect.

Near Dark3) Near Dark (1987)
Maybe Kathryn Bigelow’s directed ‘better’ films than this one, I don’t know. I’m not the taste maker. However, this vampire flick of hers is one of the horror genre’s greatest hits. And for good reason. Vampire stories are a dime a dozen, more so when you fast forward to today. Bigelow doesn’t just populate the cast with the likes of the late, great Bill Paxton and genre hero Lance Henriksen, she infuses her horror with a bit of Western sensibility and, yes, realism (the vamps’ vehicle kitted out to block the sun is simple though classic). More than that she provides an examination of what family means in different senses through her depiction of a roaming gang of bloodsucking criminals who cross paths with a sweet, lovestruck country boy.

Boys Don't Cry4) Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
Brandon Teena’s story is an American tragedy, a wound that still hasn’t closed in 2017 when Republicans are, almost more than ever, intent on making it harder for trans men and women to live their lives.
Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce, Boys Don’t Cry tells the tale of Teena (Hilary Swank) in unflinching detail about the young woman formerly known as Teena Brandon living her life as a boy named Brandon. Most of the movie is dedicated to the relationship he has with a woman named Lana Tisdel (Chloë Sevigny). But Peirce never shies away from the brutal realities of what happened to Brandon after mutual friend John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) discovers his secret. This isn’t a film I can watch often, though this doesn’t diminish its importance. You need to see this film, especially if you know anyone trans and want to understand the fear many men and women live in to this day because of violent, often murderous bigots.

Ravenous5) Ravenous (1999)
There’s a lot to enjoy about Antonia Bird’s film. You could see it as a historical horror, even a transgressive satire at times. You can never say it’s boring.
Ravenous takes on the concept of manifest destiny, when cannibalism grips a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevadas during the mid-19th century. What Bird does best is blend all the elements – Western, horror, satire, action and adventure – into an atmospheric tale that chills and also takes you on an intensely thrilling ride.
Two big welcome additions are the sprawling locations, plus one of the most unique scores you’re ever likely to hear courtesy of Blur’s Damon Albarn and composer Michael Nyman.

Werckmeister Harmonies6) Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Co-directed by husband-wife team Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, this is one of post-2000’s most unique dramas. Don’t want to say too much. What I will note is that Tarr and Hranitzky offer up excellent black-and-white visuals, while navigating a story of decay in post-World War II Eastern Europe. Plenty of ways to interpret, many ways to enjoy. Visually this is great, and it’s shot in just under 40 single takes, giving it a lyrical quality.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing7) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001)
Jill Sprecher’s 2001 ensemble drama feels, in terms of story, like a film we could’ve seen from Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson. There are a number of themes at play, and for a mostly serious drama a proper dose of appropriate comedy. It’s the case who bring the A+ work alongside Sprecher and her directorial choices. Roger Ebert fittingly described the story as philosophy unfolding through the regular events of regular peoples lives; nobody can describe it better.

Trouble Every Day8) Trouble Every Day (2001)
Get used to Claire Denis, she pops up on this list a few times and she’s one of the world’s best filmmakers; female or not. She explores the darkness of humanity, at every end of the spectrum. Naturally, she expresses the feminine side of life very well, but Denis understands human beings well as a whole.
Trouble Every Day is, on the surface, a story about sexual cannibalism. It looks and acts as a horror film. Within that are metaphors for and about love, how we tear one another apart for the sake of emotional satisfaction, lust, so on. Aided by the top notch performances of Beatrice Dalle and Vincent Gallo, Denis gets to the bloody, beating heart of love in an uncomfortable though intriguing way.

Monster9) Monster (2003)
In the study of abused women throughout America, a conflicted and devastating case is that of Aileen Wuornos. In this 2003 Patty Jenkins film Charlize Theron figuratively and physically embodies the executed woman, giving tender life to a marginalised, victimised soul whose trajectory in life was set in blood long before she ever made it to Florida. Lesser director-writers would’ve settled for a sensational horror bordering on hack-and-slash to tell this grotesque true story. Instead of that, Jenkins offers something more pensive, more personal, more focused on character and motivation than the crimes themselves.

The Woodsman10) The Woodsman (2004)
Adapted from a play of the same name, Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman is an uncomfortable piece of cinema. I have no empathy or sympathy for paedophiles or those attracted to underage teens. But, like so many great works, this story challenges the limits of acceptance and to what we the viewer are willing to relate. I won’t say any more. Go into this without knowing much and it may surprise you.
The scene from the image above is perhaps the most telling, in regards to how the audience is asked to try and understand Kevin Bacon’s character, whose past transgressions include molesting a young girl. When Walter (Bacon) steps past the boundaries of normal conversation his brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) is no longer empathetic, he’s disgusted and almost physically assaults Walter. There are different interpretations of this moment, mostly it illustrates the fine line between understanding and contempt when it comes to these types of issues.

Deliver Us from Evil11) Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
This is a difficult documentary, so I advise anyone who’s been a victim of sexual abuse, specifically at the hands of a priest, maybe tread lightly with this one. Not only are there a few explicit descriptions of the abuse perpetrated by the monstrous Father Oliver O’Grady, we also spend significant time listening to the destruction he wrought upon his victims and their families. Documentary filmmaker Amy Berg (I could’ve put any of her films on here honestly) cuts to the core with an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to protect the most vulnerable in their care, as seen through the lens of O’Grady and his crimes.
Because make no mistake, this is a microcosm of the larger problem endemic to Catholicism. Thankfully Berg brings the issue to light with an expert documentary which leaves no stone unturned.

Red Road12) Red Road (2006)
I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling. Andrea Arnold is an English treasure. Not only is her directing and writing on point in this mysterious little drama, Kate Dickie pulls out a mesmerising, fearless performance as lead character Jackie Morrison, a CCTV operator on the Red Road Flats whose job allows her a front row seat to locating the man who irreparably altered her life.
Don’t read anything else. Go, watch. Experience this moody film for what it’s worth, and let the story sink into your bones.

In a Better World13) In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier covers a lot of ground with this 2010 dramatic thriller. From a small Danish town to an African refugee camp, Bier dissects the meaning and devastation of violent conflict, the constructions of masculinity, and more. The plot’s wonderfully divided between the two separate lives of one man, home in Denmark and away in Africa, as he struggles to understand the nature of violence while holding onto the man he is inside. Although the movie is great to look at and Bier’s directing is solid, it’s the story which ultimately captives, keeping you glued until the final moments determining whether the film is a tragedy after all.

Lore14) Lore (2012)
No shortage of WWII and Nazi-related films out there, though some are far better than others. At the top of the heap is Lore, based on one of the novellas from Rachel Seiffert’s book The Dark Room. Directed and co-written by Cate Shortland, the story is an uncompromising view of life nearing the end of Nazi rule, as we see the perspective of a young woman raised by Nazis and her aftermath when Allied Forces move in on their homes.
There’s so much in the film’s 109 minutes to absorb. Watching young Lore deal with the sudden disappearance of her parents in a time of intense crisis gets to me. Because she’s been raised by fascist parents to take part in a frighteningly fascist society, not the typical lead character we follow in WWII or post-WWII movies. But Shortland draws our attention to the right places, and Lore’s journey evolves into something far more compassionate than you’ll ever anticipate in the beginning.
One of the most telling moments is when Lore threatens her little brother, saying that the Americans have prisons where young people are tortured, horrible places; the irony as she subscribes to the Nazi ideology is staggering, showing us just how indoctrinated she’s become living in the world of adults ruling Germany with an iron fist.

The Pervert's Guide to Ideology15) The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012)
Director Sophie Fiennes casts her lens upon philosophical cokehead Slavoj Žižek, who I’m half a fan of when he’s not spouting absolute madness and misguided wisdom. What I love is that Fiennes captures Žižek in his own world, in a sense. As he rants, often to great effect (his movie wisdom re: ideology is fairly spot on), she takes us into that world, and adorns each frame with the influence of the films Žižek discusses at length. My favourite section is where he discusses the John Carpenter classic ahead of its time, They Live, and in particular his dissection of the fight scene, which in itself is a perfect rendition of the struggle to accept ideology.

Ratcatcher 16) Ratcatcher (1999)
Certain filmmakers capture the essence of the middle to lower classes with absolute precision. One such director is Lynne Ramsay. Her 1999 drama Ratcatcher depicts 1970s Glasgow in all its visual squalor, as we infiltrate the poor housing districts populated by characters hoping for better, for more. From the striking binmen and all the garbage piling up outside, to the just as neglected inner lives of those inside the flats, Ramsay finds the beauty and the tenderness amongst all the trash.
There are two gorgeous, memorable sequences above all. One of those is a dose of magic realism you might not expect to see. When it comes, you’ll know. And you’ll never forget.

Away from Her17) Away from Her (2006)
The subject of Alzheimer’s Disease is a touchy one, like any disease that decimates a human being, physically or mentally. Directed and written by Sarah Polley, Away from Her is based on a short story called “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro. It’s a film which will rock you. Both performances by Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent are the stuff of dreams.
Polley does a stellar job in her dual role as writer and director. Not only is her work quality, the movie is directed by a woman, a Canadian, based on a Canadian writer’s story, filmed in Canada. Pinsent is even from my small hometown on the far East Coast of Canada, Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland. What’s not to love?

The Virgin Suicides18) The Virgin Suicides (1999)
You can argue that Sofia Coppola has only gotten better as a director, so that would mean her debut feature isn’t necessarily going to be her best. But while I agree she’s matured since, The Virgin Suicides is my vote for her best. It’s a great film in terms of story, directing. It’s also an important one.
Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, it explores the utter pain of becoming a woman through eyes of young boys/men watching from a distance. At first that seems like a male perspective, and to an extent it is, when it helps capture the mysteriousness and elusive nature of femininity from all angles. Coppola was the perfect filmmaker to tackle this story, doing so with atmosphere and a deft hand for storytelling.

But I'm a Cheerleader19) But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
When I was young I saw this on Showcase. Being 15 and stupid at the time I was like “Awesome there’s lesbians” and just enjoyed seeing a couple girls kiss each other. In my maturity, Jamie Babbit’s movie became a clever satire about the construction of gender roles, centred on a 17-year-old girl struggling with her sexuality. This is where I first really fell in love with the acting of Clea DuVall and Natasha Lyonne. Above all else, Babbit directs this with vision. Regardless of what critics said at the time she does wonderful things with the look and feel of her film, pushing its themes visually going against heteronormativity and the socially constructed way our society views being a woman.

The Selfish Giant20) The Selfish Giant (2013)
Clio Barnard directs and writes this modern fable about greed and guilt, loosely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s story of the same name. Apart from the fine acting from the young lads central to the story, Barnard shows us a raw portrait of those on the margins. At times tender, The Selfish Giant gives us a look at characters recognisable to those who grew up in little places, where any feasible way to make money was a good way to make money. If you’ve a heart at all this movie will shake you, though in an eye-opening sense.

Pet Sematary21) Pet Sematary (1989)
Not sure how everyone else feels. For me, both the novel and the film Pet Sematary got under my skin. I mean, the mom’s sister Zelda? Haunts me to this day, no joke. Terrifying.
For any of those idiot men out there who have a shit opinion about women in horror, check out Mary Lambert here. Not only is this one of my favourite Stephen King adaptations on film, Lambert generally does nice work in the horror genre with this late ’80s classic.
Gruesome, eerie, intense, darkly comic; this one’s got it all!

Titus22) Titus (1999)
Despite recently discovering Steve Bannon co-exec produced this movie, and the fact it’s based on one of Shakespeare’s more obscure and ridiculously violent plays, it’s still a fantastic slice of cinema directed by Julie Taymor. Boasting a fantastically epic cast, Titus is a visionary adaptation of Shakespeare up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Colourful, savage, metafictional, flamboyant, purposely anachronistic – Taymor isn’t afraid to be different, to be her own director. She is fascinating, and this movie is full of wonders. Fuck what anyone else tells you.

Harlan County USA23) Harlan County, USA (1976)
I don’t need to tell anyone about the spectacular work of Barbara Kopple, from her documentaries to her directing on episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street to one of my favourite series’ of all-time Oz.
This documentary is raw and powerful. A look at a miners strike in Kentucky presents the class divide between Americans more than a hundred lectures and articles by people who think they know it all. Necessary viewing for any wannabe documentary filmmaker, and for anyone serious about understanding classism in American society.

Rush24) Rush (1991)
Lili Fini Zanuck’s only feature film is a top notch crime drama that goes undercover with two detectives and gets lost in the drugs. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, Rush is one of my most favourite undercover cop dramas out there. This is another movie you want to go into without knowing much. Just that Zanuck directs the hell out of it, taking us on a ride with Leigh and Patric that’s full of adrenaline and suspenseful dramatics.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night25) A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Ana Lily Amirpour has emerged as one of the more bold genre directors in the past decade, with this film and her newest, The Bad Batch. She’s got an eye for black-and-white. Moreover, she blends genres like nobody’s business!
I can’t properly describe the film without giving too much away. It’s a vampire film. It’s Iranian. It’s almost fantastical in nature, dystopian in a way existing in a place that’s otherworldly.

American Psycho26) American Psycho (2000)
Bret Easton Ellis gave us one hell of a novel when this was originally released. A wildly transgressive piece of literature. It was hard to imagine anyone translating that totally onto the screen. But, where there is doubt there is Mary Harron!
All of Ellis’ dark, satirical comedy comes out, as does the brutality and the depraved nature of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in fine form). She really gets the book, or at least how I interpreted the book. And you can argue whether it’s all real, that’s up to interpretation; regardless of authorial intent. Point is, this is a great horror in many ways, not least of which is the fact Harron does spectacular work as director bringing Ellis and his madness to the film properly.

Wayne's World27) Wayne’s World (1992)
For years I had no idea this comedy classic starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey was directed by a woman. Penelope Spheeris gives life outside SNL to Wayne and Garth, as the meatheaded young party animals with their own cable access television show. One of my favourite comedies. When I did find out Spheeris was behind the movie, only made it better to understand, still as a teenager then, that a woman can party on as good as any dude. Something I should’ve known sooner.

Honeymoon28) Honeymoon (2014)
I don’t know what the consensus on this flick is, but I love Leigh Janiak’s allegory about the concept of marriage, and what it is to truly know somebody, inside out. Honeymoon is like a metaphor wrapped in body horror sci-fi, underneath an intense, claustrophobic drama. Lots of good atmosphere. When the horror comes, it arrives in spades. The acting from Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway is out of this world, which helps in such a closed environment; their paranoia, the fear is suffocating as they spend much of their time in a single space. Wonderful horror cinema, Janiak knows how to get at the soul.

Sleeping Beauty29) Sleeping Beauty (2011)
Part her own fiction, partly based on a couple novels, Julia Leigh spins a strange tale of a young woman who participates in various different occupations to make money. Some of which includes doing medical experiments, even working in a high end escort house where she’s drugged to sleep next to paying male customers. Equal parts creepy and symbolic, Sleeping Beauty is, like it or not, unforgettable.

The Babadook30) The Babadook (2014)
Jennifer Kent rocked a lot of us when she released this nightmarish psychological horror into the filmosphere. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll do my best not to spoil.
All I’ll say is this – you can interpret the film however you want, but either way it’s filled with frightening imagery reminiscent of German Expressionism, and can work on the level of a metaphor for how we deal with grief in the wake of tragedy.

Winter's Bone31) Winter’s Bone (2010)
I think Jennifer Lawrence is a bit of a knucklehead. As an actress, she is really great. Most of the time. In 2010’s Winter’s Bone, she plays a resilient young Ozarks girl left to fend for herself and her two young siblings after her deadbeat, drug addict father goes missing. Under the thumb of a ruthless community and her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes in one of his best roles), she’s left with not many choices. Just like so many in the real world like her are left destitute, in every way you can think. The directing from Debra Granik is good stuff, from the picturesque locations to the shabby little backwoods town where the plot plays out she knows how to push us into a world that not everybody understands.

Persepolis32) Persepolis (2007)
I read this graphic novel in a university course a couple years ago. It struck a chord, seeing a perspective that I don’t know too well. Marjane Satrapi adapted her own novel into this fantastic animated feature, which helps hugely – rather than put this into live action, she sticks with the cartoon format, and that holds power. Just like Maus and its Jewish mice, Persepolis helps us confront hard truths and ideas about the Islamic Revolution, what it was like in Iran before, after; it does this by being presented in cartoon, automatically pumping up sympathy, even if unknowing in the audience. No matter what, Satrapi keeps the essence of her graphic novel autobiography and shows that she’s as skilled a director as she is an author.

Amer33) Amer (2009)
Hélène Cattet and partner Bruno Forzani direct this visually stunning tale of the development of a young girl into a woman, defined by three moments in her life. Like a psychosexual nightmare crossed with an expertly paced, mysterious Giallo sensibility, Amer plays less like a film, more as an experience. Honestly, I know that’s something that you might expect a pretentious writer to say, and maybe I am. But I do know that you won’t see many movies quite like this, a unique, one of a kind piece of horror cinema.

XX34) XX (2017)
What happens when a bunch of women come together to give us an anthology horror film? We get some fresh, unnerving new perspectives, such as St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, for instance. These four shorts are each impressive in their own right, though I’d have to say “The Box” (based on a Jack Ketchum story) is likely my favourite. Still hard to choose when all of them are chilling. Some are darkly comic, others outright horrifying. In an anthology, especially if there are more than a handful of segments, you’ll often see a few really weak links in the bunch. XX offers up four thrilling short films that you’ll be thinking about for days.
Kudos to these women, I hope they all continue to scare the shit out of us in the future! Horror needn’t be a boys club. I’d much prefer the feminine perspective pump out more genre work, and I feel this movie only helps the case for that.

The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things35) The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)
I love Asia Argento. She’s fascinating. And one of her few feature films as director, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, falls on its viewer like a hammer.
Without spoiling, this is the tragic tale of a mother who’s not fit to be a mother dragging her little boy through one messy life situation after another. This isn’t a comedy. It is outright brutal, in what it shows and what it opts not to show, too. Starring Argento and the Sprouse brothers before bigger fame, we also see appearances from the likes of Marilyn Manson, Kip Pardue, Jeremy Renner, Peter Fonda, Ben Foster, Michael Pitt, and Jeremy Sisto. The cast is varied, all of them giving their best efforts in the various sleazeball roles they play.
Be prepared – this film is not for the faint of heart. It isn’t a horror, it’s a drama. One that will grate on your nerves and wear down your psyche. However, it’s a great anti-thesis to all the romanticised versions of down-and-out families we see so often, proving that, as it says in the Bible: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Innocence36) Innocence (2004)
Lucile Hadžihalilović has two films on this list, because she’s a mesmerising talent behind the camera. Her directing is confident, even as the stories she tells fall into a space not quite of this world yet still a part of the human order of things. I know, that’s mystifying in itself. But trust me, Hadžihalilović is unlike any other.
Innocence is a film about young girls at a secluded boarding school, where new students are brought in lying within coffins, and there they being the education which takes them from girls into womanhood. You could take this and Hadžihalilović’s Evolution, also on the list, and use them as companion pieces exploring male v. female gender. This film is inexplicable until you see it. A visual feast. Furthermore, it’s a disturbing work of art.

Dans Ma Peau37) Dans Ma Peau (2002)
I won’t say much, other than a trigger warning for those who have issues with self-harm/mutilation: this is a doozy!
For everyone else, this film acts as an exploration of how we relate to our own bodies. Director Marina de Van goes into shocking detail, following a woman who develops a nasty habit after suffering a rough injury. This prompts a descent into body horror, as the viewer must come to terms with this woman and her increasingly masochistic behaviour.

Jesus Camp38) Jesus Camp (2006)
I was raised Roman Catholic, though when I hit 12 my parents gave me the choice on my own whether to go to church. I gave up, never looked back. As a grown man, I’ve decided I’m not without faith, I just don’t believe in God, organised religion, all that. I simply have faith in humanity.
When you watch Jesus Camp, you’ll see how humanity is warped. The kids in this documentary have been so viciously brainwashed that it’s abuse, to my mind. Watching some of the adults egging these kids on into realms of thought they can’t possibly understand is frightening, as well as sad and frustrating and a whole bunch of other emotions tied up together. Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing direct this documentary together, and they expose a sinister underbelly to what many used to think was innocuous summer camp-type activities.

Goodnight Mommy39) Goodnight Mommy (2015)
When two twins see their mother come back home after surgery, her face wrapped in bandages, they start to wonder: is it really their mommy under all that gauze?
Goodnight Mommy is a whopper of a film. A psychothriller we don’t often see. Sure, maybe you’ll ‘guess the twist’ early on. I didn’t. Even if I did, co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala weave us through the story in a way that still demands respect, and fear. Not only that, the directing offers up some stellar visuals, as the story messes with our mind right to the finish.

The Turin Horse40) The Turin Horse (2011)
Another film from Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky. This time, they take on the tale of Friedrich Nietzsche, albeit in an adjacent form. When Nietzsche lost his mind, supposedly it was precipitated by him watching a horse being flogged in the street, after which he crumbled mentally. Tarr and Hranitzky don’t follow the great philosopher. Instead, they show us what happens next to the horse. We go back to the horse’s home, we see the lives of his owner and the owner’s daughter.
This isn’t for everyone. Most definitely a philosophical film, for those with an interest in philosophy. Within the seemingly monotonous perspective of the film there are questions about life, waiting to confuse and titillate.

Bastards41) Les salauds (2013)
Oh, Claire Denis; I worship at thine altar.
What a filmmaker. She’s consistently interesting, even if you don’t particularly dig each of her films. She is always asking questions about the hardest aspects of life – love, loss, pain, pride; everything.
Les salauds (English title: Bastards) is a disturbing film, on several levels. Ultimately, this chalks up to a tragedy of errors, in the deepest, most painful sense possible. The titular bastards are all around, though more often than not they’re close to us than we think. Denis explores this idea well, with Vincent Lindon at the centre of the story giving another great performance as usual.

We Need to Talk About Kevin42) We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
Another magnificent human being, Lynne Ramsay, reappears on the list.
And for good reason. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a hugely important movie, based on the book of the same name written only a few years after the Columbine massacre. Tilda Swinton takes on the role of Kevin’s mother, facing the hardship of having to live on in a world where her son has committed horrible atrocities. She takes the punishment from the locals, the news, so on. And while we’re tempted to feel sorry for her, the flashbacks we experience alongside her offer a different perspective. She certainly isn’t to blame for the horror of Kevin as a young adult. At the same time, it’s hard not to see the effect an unloving mother can have on a child’s development. In so many ways this is a difficult to swallow story. In so many other ways, it’s one of the most important films since 2000.

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears43) The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013)
From the directors of Amer, this is another eerie tale. I won’t say anything further, except expect more of the same (though different) visuals and in turn visual storytelling rather than a ton of expository dialogue. This is a weird, wonderful slice of Giallo-inspired cinema you won’t want to miss.

Evolution44) Évolution (2015)
Watch this Lucile Hadžihalilović picture after you’ve seen her other film Innocence. They’re each innovative looks at gender. This one turns its gaze onto the development of young boys, albeit in a dystopian, sci-fi-ish way that isn’t always easy to grasp. Despite that the film is hard to ignore. Like a bit of body horror, fantasy, and dystopian drama in one big, weird bowl.

The Hitch-Hiker45) The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Ida Lupino was directing movies at a time when it wasn’t exactly common for women to be helming big pictures. But it’s stuff like 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker that exemplifies exactly why. In this simple story of two men picking up a dangerous man on the side of the road, Lupino does more than a couple films combined. I don’t want to spoil the goods, because she truly makes a suspenseful piece of work out of a simplistic premise. The acting is great, and the cinematography will keep you cooped up in close quarters with the titular hitchhiker on the edge of madness with his unwilling passengers, from start to finish.

She's Lost Control46) She’s Lost Control (2014)
Anja Marquardt’s She’s Lost Control is a raw drama that looks at the life of a sexual surrogate. She’s forever altered when one client with whom she works becomes erratic in his behaviour, committing a brutal act that sees her question a job she never did before and also deal with the misunderstood conceptions about her job from the people around her. Definitely a slow burning drama, but filled with enough nuanced acting that you’ll forget any slower pacing. Brooke Bloom’s central performance is better than great, she genuinely falls into the skin of her character Ronah. And when you see those last frames, you’ll feel like you’re right there in her skin, as well. Like it or not.

The Adversary47) The Adversary (2002)
When a man’s family turns up dead, his life for the past couple decades unravels and it’s discovered he’s not who he’s pretended to be all along. Daniel Auteuil turns in a staggeringly powerful performance in the lead role. It’s the way director and co-writer Nicole Garcia shows us the story that offers the film’s most intriguing aspect. Going from the man’s present to the past, and everything in between, Garcia shows us where he is, how he got there, and all the pain of everyone involved. At times a straightforward drama, The Adversary surprises with the manner in which its revelations open up for the viewer.

The Blue Light48) The Blue Light (1932)
Leni Riefenstahl didn’t just make an awful piece of Nazi propaganda. She also made and starred in The Blue Light, a hypnotising fantasy about a woman suspected of being a witch, who’s the only person in her village that can climb a nearby mountain; at the top is a strange blue light that shines under the moon. Young men die trying to follow the woman. Eventually, tragedy strikes when she entrusts the secret of the mountain and its blue light to a man who betrays her.
There’s a lot to enjoy, from cinematography to the sweeping score to the dreamy pacing and equally dreamy imagery. I only saw this recently, seeking it out before Women’s History Month specifically. And I wasn’t disappointed. Its length is perfect to match the pacing Riefenstahl attains, slowly indoctrinating us into this mysterious village at the foot of the mountain. A fantastic work of early 20th century cinema!

Pariah49) Pariah (2011)
I loved Moonlight. But 5 years before it dropped on us like a beautiful black bomb, Dee Rees brought us a story of a young African-American girl discovering and exploring her lesbianism while navigating family and friendship in Brooklyn.
While you can admire it for the gorgeously captured images of beautiful, young black women frequenting nightclubs, walking the streets of their neighbourhood, moving through the familiar spaces of their lives brought out in exuberant detail, Pariah is a tender if not tough look at this girl and her struggle. There are moments of such beauty you might cry.
And whereas Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner of 2016 ended on a hopeful, heartwarming note, Rees opts to end with a beat depicting the all too common fight of young gay/lesbian men and women out there just trying to be themselves.

Vanishing Waves50) Vanishing Waves (2013)
This film by director and co-writer Kristina Buozyte is a unique work of science fiction, especially if we consider the sci-fi that’s come out since 2000. It’s a very psychological piece. Above all, the visuals are to die for! What begins as nebulous, evasive story slowly morphs into something tangible as time progresses. At the beginning, you won’t know what to think. Then as you let Buozyte sink her images into you and they burrow under your skin, Vanishing Waves takes form right before your eyes. Not for everyone, but certainly a great female-directed film in a male dominated industry, where directors like Buozyte are pushing the envelope and plenty of men are directing heaps of shitty sci-fi.

The House is Black51) The House is Black (1963)
Watch this. Now. A short documentary, though no less important than one that’ll run for two-and-a-half hours. In twenty minutes you’ll experience a ton of emotions. Director Forugh Farrokhzad examines what it is to be ‘ugly’ and pits that against religion. Trust me, you won’t regret watching this one. The images are stark and they’re not always easy to watch. But all of the best documentaries touch a nerve, which Farrokhzad does with hers so effortlessly.

Vagabond52) Vagabond (1985)
Starting with the death of a young woman frozen in a field, Agnès Varda takes us back through her life leading up to where and when she’s found. This is like a snapshot of real life, in the sense that we often see these types of deaths, ones we deem sad and unfortunate, and we know nothing of this person’s life. While Varda’s eponymous vagabond isn’t a bad person, nor does she deserve a tragic death such as this, we basically watch the bittersweet flavour of her existence. And that perhaps dying in a field, free and in the open is what this vagabond wanted. Perhaps there’s more romance in her life and death than we suspect at the start. Or maybe not. The way Varda doesn’t show us everything, sometimes leaving out significant pieces for the audience to put together in a puzzle, how we get cinema verite moments of people talking into the camera about the young woman, there’s a very genuine feel of reality. We’re left to decide exactly what this woman’s life means, if anything, and how her death reflects the life she lived.

White Material53) White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, once more. An auteur.
White Material is a ferocious film, full of power. Isabelle Huppert, like always, wows in her central performance as a French coffee farmer struggling in an African country as a civil war erupts. What we see is less a political view into things as it is a personal, smaller scale look at child soldiers and what they’re made to do, as well as how the people of a country react to the violence of war in its many brutal forms. There are difficult moments throughout. In her usual awesome form, Denis often affects us more by what she DOESN’T show and merely suggests, rather than what she chooses to show. In the end, this all hinges on Huppert at the centre, a woman faced with losing everything she has in every way but refuses to just give in. Another one of her stories that’s heavy in impact, as if you’d expect any less.

The Underbelly of White Liberals & Horrific Cultural Appropriation in GET OUT

Get Out. 2017. Directed & Written by Jordan Peele.
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, LilRel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, & Stephen Root.
QC Entertainment/Blumhouse Productions
Rated 14A. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
screenshot-2017-02-26-at-4-19-55-pmAs a long time fan of Key and Peele, soon as the news dropped Jordan Peele would make a horror film I was beyond excited. Because in some of the skits they did, it’s easy to tell he’s a horror fan. Not just a fair weather fan, either. He’s a genuine connoisseur of the genre, far as I’m concerned.
That only becomes more evident when you’ve actually seen Get Out. I feel totally confident in saying it’s one of the best horrors since 2000, up there with others I adore such as High TensionKill ListInsideSpringSaunaThe Witch, and more.
Moreover, Peele makes this feature a total work of an auteur, a unique and inventive picture. At once it’s entirely his own, and also bears the mark of Peele’s influences on its sleeve with pride. Above all the story is disturbing, compelling, critical of social constructs of racism (and no, the liberals don’t escape scrutiny), full of psychological horror to unsettle you and mystery so thick you’re liable to feel the breath catch in your throat.
getoutDisclaimer: If you’ve not seen the film, turn back! A good discussion is going to involve spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin any of the plot for you beforehand.

In interviews, Peele has made clear he loves The Stepford Wives, particularly in that it holds a lot of social criticism within its horrific sci-fi machinations. What we get here has a vein of the William Godlman-penned adaptation, though obviously skews into the idea of racism. But it isn’t solely racism. Intriguingly enough, the story – specifically its characters – deals with liberal racism, the type of stuff not always overtly evident to those who hold liberal beliefs and spend their days believing they’re not in the slight bit racist. And the creeping sense of this racism builds, as Peele takes us inside the affluent white family of Rose Armitage (Williams), to whom she introduces her African-American boyfriend Chris (Kaluuya). The terror isn’t terror at first. It starts off as comical: Rose’s father Dean (Whitford) fawning over Barack Obama, worrying that having a black maid and a black housekeeper reflects poorly on him as a self-professed liberal, and her mother Missy (Keener) with her hypnotism bumping up against Chris’ smoking habit.
Once the facade wears off though, Get Out descends into utter terror. It’s all storytelling, character development, suspense. There’s a moment when poor Chris realises what exactly is afoot, including the depth to which it goes that he, and many of the audience, had never once anticipated. Even if, like myself, you feel that you know where everything is headed it’s how Peele takes us there which ultimately holds power.
My favourite image: directly after Chris discovers the extent and hideous nature of why he’s been invited to the Armitage estate, he notices cotton stuffing coming out of the chair to which he’s strapped. Now, this is part of his eventual escape. However, it’s a subtle little moment where we see a beautiful, brown leather chair on the outside, and the white stuffing within, as if the very image of what is happening at the hands of the Armitages. Maybe not intended at all in that way. An observation, one I couldn’t stop thinking of after the fact.
get-out-3My idea, and I’m sure the same idea of many others who’ve seen the film, is that the story is an overall allegory for the idea of cultural appropriation. Again, I likewise feel Peele is gunning at another part of the problem aside from the obvious racists. And as a mixed race man he has a unique perspective on the concept of racism, being a part of both worlds at once and seeing things from many angles. The Armitages are a rich bunch of white people whose fascination with Rose’s black boyfriend verges between obsession and bigotry, teetering on the edge as is the case in real life; something people like that don’t see on their own. When the horrific truth of the family bubbles up to the surface, it’s too late. And worse is the fact Chris saw it coming, but trusted his girlfriend to be different from the rest of her family.
This is where the core of the plot lies, in the concept that this sort of racism it exists all around us. In everybody. I can look at things I’ve said or thought in the past that, to me, felt innocuous. Through the eyes of my friends who are from different cultures, those things might appear in a different light. Peele makes his points in an elaborate way, substituting horror and mystery for what could’ve otherwise been brought out in a drama. By doing so, he makes the whole story more disturbing. There are hard hitting dramas and thrillers out there which take on racism, some of them very well. Get Out‘s strength comes from the way the story grips you, makes you laugh, disarms, then pounds you into submission with its subtle creeps.
get-out-trailerThere are a good few movies that I personally consider five-star pieces of cinema. Not all of those are actually perfect, to my mind, but they’re still fantastic. Get Out is a five-star flick that’s perfect in my eyes. I wouldn’t change a thing. And considering, for a film lover, that I hate sitting in theatre seats (being a big, tall man isn’t always fun), after the credits rolled I could’ve sat back for another viewing. It’s satisfying, rife with tension and suspenseful moments. The cast each bring their respective talents. Kaluuya’s star shines brightest. He knocked me out with his performance, carrying every scene he’s in with a grace not always present in the horror genre.
Peele’s examination of the subtle racism amongst liberal white people is something I won’t soon forget. I hope he’ll do more in the horror genre, and my hope is that he’ll continue bringing his point of view on the racial sociopolitical landscape; maybe even go a little bigger with it next time. He’s a sharp guy, dosing us with just as much hilarity, dark comedy, and satire as there is horror.
Go see this, support horror that doesn’t play by the rules. Also, white people need to watch this. You can genuinely learn some things. This is not a politically correct film, clear by all the white idiots out there already crowing that Peele is anti-white and other nonsense (I’m sure he and his white mother would disagree). And I love that someone like him has put this into the filmsphere. It belongs. Another hopeful part of Get Out‘s success is that other filmmakers from the black community, and other cultures, will push to give us their vision of their experiences. This movie’s done a ton for the genre in one swoop, reassuring moviegoers that not all horror has to be cut from the same cloth, and that compelling perspectives against the grain are out there, ready to terrify us.

I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE & Justice in the Real World

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Directed & Written by Macon Blair.
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow, Jane Levy, Devon Graye, Christine Woods, & Robert Longstreet.
Film Science/XYZ Films
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
img_0007Ever since seeing him in the fantastic indie Murder Party, Macon Blair draws me to his work. Just a couple years ago Jeremy Saulnier went ahead and gave him the spotlight in the story of amateur but passionate revenge, Blue Ruin, and last year Blair also turned up as a neo-Nazi with a heart still beating somewhere deep down in the immensely impressive Green Room.
A year after, Blair comes to us via Netflix with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey (who along with her role in “The Birthday Party” from anthology horror movie XX is experiencing a big surge in her great career) and Elijah Wood. Channelling energy no doubt gleaned from his time working in front of the camera for Saulnier, Blair writes and directs like he’s been doing it for ages. The pacing, the directing, his tense, darkly comic, and at many times his cathartic script all make for an inventive debut feature. Even better, the timing of this film is on the nose; when North America’s been gripped by a steady stream of hate billowing out of the aftermath from the 2016 U.S. elections. I don’t think Blair anticipated such relevance, and wanted to just make a solid crime-thriller. Despite authorial intent, his work feels perfectly at home in this world heading on from 2017, surely expressing the feelings of many Americans in the story’s reluctant yet driven to the brink protagonist.
img_0008Everyone is an asshole. And dildos.”
The opening moments are awesomely comic and dark, as well. From an old lady’s vulgar last words to an awkward parking lot encounter, a look of existential frustration on the face of our protagonist Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) as oblivious shoppers cut in front of her in the cashier line or don’t bother picking up items they knock off shelves, to dog shit left on her lawn and a random man in a bar ruining the latest book in a series she’s reading – Ruth’s introduction to the viewer is a concise explanation of the film’s title. Watching her life in these short, informative bursts during the opener is a proper visual thesis.
Blair’s story is at once familiar and totally unique in its own skin, as we see the age old tale of person pushed to the limits of what their humanity and pride can tolerate. Ruth refuses victimhood any longer. After suffering the myriad of small injustices offered by the world on a daily basis, she snaps when a truly shitty act of criminality forces her past the point of silence, towards reclaiming her life via vengeance. Only, as in real life, the film shows us how even well-intentioned revenge doesn’t always go as planned. Perhaps the greatest aspect of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is its dedication to reality, in that it refuses to deny the messiness of being human.
img_0009Ruth: “What are we doinghere, this world?”
Tony: “Trying to be good. Or be better.”
A large focus of the plot becomes the idea that, in today’s society (and for a long time), the focus lies more on what a victim must do to prevent being victimised, rather than preventing and punishing criminals properly. We see this particularly in the case of rape victims, which contemporary internet culture and social media has made even worse, as women who’ve been sexually assaulted and raped often hear what THEY should have done instead of society working on the men who commit such atrocities.
For instance, the police officer assigned to Ruth’s case all but refuses to take her seriously. All because she left her door open. This is just about the epitome of the idea that victims are treated like they’ve done something wrong. The cop keeps bringing up the fact she left the door open, so it negates her troubles; there are better things to do for cops than worrying about people who are asking for it. And that’s the bottom line, that the police, sometimes, would rather blame someone for what they did to supposedly bring on the crime than do work to find the criminals responsible. Because sure, she left the door open, that’s still not an invitation to be robbed – robbery is still illegal – exactly how a woman getting too drunk or wearing sexy clothes is NOT an invitation to assault or rape or anything else. Not sure if this is what Blair was getting at. Regardless, he gets to the heart of the issue with Ruth’s journey towards civilising her small pocket of the world. And further than that, how the police won’t help and make it harder for her to find justice, we see how many people in this crazy world are pushed to take matters into their own hands and find vigilante justice.
img_0010There’s so much, too much, to love. A scene involving an old man pawnbroker morphs from a hilariously sneaky scene into something more surreal, slightly horrifying, though entirely funny in a grim sense. Then there’s one bloody, climactic moment of pure violent madness before the last few scenes that works wonders. Continually, from plot events to bloody violence, the film sticks to the idea of real life. Events occur as in real life: spontaneous, weird, ugly, brutal. The plot heads in unexpected, dangerous directions, as Ruth winds up from where she’d ever anticipated at the beginning, reflected in the blood and cracked windpipes and stabbed stomachs Blair offers up on screen.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has everything I expected. One of the most fun, and equally wild, film experiences I’ve had over the past year, definitely a contender for the films I love most at the end of 2017. Lynskey is pitch perfect in the lead, both innocent and strong in her own right, flanked by Elijah Wood in a role he owns; the others in the cast fill it out with class.
Blair does more than I could’ve imagined. I knew his debut would go over well because he’s got an old school sensibility about him as an actor; this translates to his directing with force. Every move of the story feels expertly paced, each scene directed and shot with precision. A crime-thriller that resonates with the modern state of America. Plus, yet another huge reason why Netflix deserves credit for letting directors – from TV shows to fictional and documentary features – take the reins of their vision and steer it how they see fit.

Lukewarm Gothic with A CURE FOR WELLNESS

A Cure for Wellness. 2017. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Screenplay by Justin Haythe.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Ivo Nandi, Adrian Schiller, Celia Imrie, Magnus Krepper, & Harry Groener.
Regency Enterprises/New Regency Productions/Blind Wink Productions/Studio Babelsberg/TSG Entertainment
Rated R. 146 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror

★★★
poster-a-cure-for-wellnessI’m sort of a half-in, half-out-type when it comes to Gore Verbinski. He’s not a bad filmmaker. In fact, he is pretty damn solid. When it comes to horror he did a fantastic job with 2001’s American remake of The Ring, which I personally found more unsettling than the original Ringu.
16 years later, he returns with A Cure for Wellness.
Part of what pisses me off has nothing to do with Verbinski, nor with the Gothic and fun screenplay from Justin Haythe that falls apart in the last quarter. It’s that people seem intent on labelling anything featuring slithery creatures as inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. When people do that I often wonder, have you ever read anything by him? I saw articles leading up to the film, and after, describing this as some sort of Lovecraftian-leaning story.
It is not. Whatsoever. If anything it’s further back into the Gothic literary tradition, closer to a tale you might discover in a lost Edgar Allan Poe tome, or a Robert Chambers short story. The screenplay is fantastic in certain parts; others, it lacks the coherency needed to carry the large scale of its plot. Building up the horror and the dreadful atmosphere, in part due to incredibly chosen locations at which to film, Verbinski sets us up for a finale that never comes. And the one that does left me way past cold.
a-cure-for-wellness-2Immediately I didn’t like the first scene before the title. Not because it wasn’t well filmed or well-acted; the latter not at all, the actor was excellent for his brief few minutes on screen. The scene obviously connects to the rest of the plot. However, my problem is that screenwriter Justin Haythe could’ve given us a better, creepier, more connective section of tissue for the film to feed off organically. There’s like a stutter step as Verbinski gets going. A darkness lies over the opener. Might have served the atmosphere better if there was a scene involving Pembroke (Harry Groener), shrouded in mystery. Because I love how we’re slowly introduced to the spa where Pembroke’s ran off and become nearly a different man. That works like a charm. Personally, the first scene doesn’t do any service to the film, and it’s just a cog amongst the rest of the works with no shine.
One of the earliest redeeming qualities after this lacklustre start is the cinematography, as DP Bojan Bazelli (The RingKing of New York) captures the city as a dark and gloomy, moody space, versus the mountain setting of the German locations, specifically Castle Hohenzollern standing in for the spooky spa. Even as Dane DeHaan’s character rides a sleek modern train up into the Alps, Bazelli manages to draw the eye in an unsuspecting way.
But most of all, DeHaan and Mia Goth each make the film’s characters work; Isaacs is pretty good on the whole, though early on his accent flutters a few times before smoothing out. DeHaan does a massive load of heavy lifting, providing us a perspective into the plot’s events that drags into a psychologically scary place. He never misses a damn beat, a fine actor of his generation. On the other side is Goth, whose look alone gives her character an unsettling air. She acts the part perfectly, keeping us in the dark while the writing unfolds further and further into terror. There’s a spectacular scene in a Swiss mountain pub where her character does a dance in front of the locals, and the way she falls into it you can see her determination as an actress.
a-cure-for-wellness-1Disclaimer: Beyond this point are big time spoilers for the plot. Proceed at your own risk.

Perhaps my biggest beef ultimately is that A Cure for Wellness never does enough with its build up and the atmosphere, settling for a conclusion which negates much of the solid work Verbinski and his crew and the actors accomplish. For instance, there are things Lockhart (DeHaan) discovers in the spa’s underbelly I would’ve liked to see explained. Not that any of it was supremely mind boggling after the film was over. There are a couple scenes and pieces of imagery I felt were used simply for the fact Verbinski thought they’d look cool. Such as the tanks holding the people, though they’re not actually dead. You could say it’s all for hydrating, whatever, but between the tanks, then the iron lung-style contraptions people are put in, corpses being dumped into the water supply where they’re eaten by eels… complete overkill.
There’s a repetition problem. Plain and simple. Aside from this, there are plotholes concerning Dr. Volmer (Isaacs) and Hannah (Goth) I don’t fully understand. And you don’t need to worry: I can suspend disbelief with the best of them. At a point, there’s only so far I can stretch. What doesn’t make sense to me is Hannah, especially. Considering the original fire in the castle where the spa stands was 200 years prior, we’ve got Volmer whose face is all nasty under the human skin he wears, then just from being tossed into the water on the mountain Hannah, only a fetus at the time, lasts as a young girl for two centuries? I can’t make rational sense of certain aspects, which is why I feel like Haythe’s screenplay went too ambitious. The Lovecraftian nonsense I hear brought up by people who don’t read enough Lovecraft COULD HAVE been stellar, if Haythe used that influence and tweaked the whole purpose of the mountain spa. I felt the story was headed somewhere entirely different. Maybe I’m just whining because I wanted something specific instead of what I received.
a-cure-for-wellness-3Up to the last quarter of the film there’s an atmosphere of dread, the mood is suspenseful and smothered with tension. Psychological horror plagues the viewer, not knowing whether Lockhart is ripping a hole in the mysterious practices of Dr. Volmer and his weird spa, or if he’s actually going totally insane. And that works, so well.
Until the final quarter rolls and the finale crumbles. A Cure for Wellness has plenty of Gothic qualities to make it compelling. With a 146-minute runtime I can’t help feel that Haythe’s screenplay drags on a half hour too long, leaving Verbinski to struggle with expanding scenes and concepts to the point of boredom. I love long films, only if they’re suited to their length (see: Scorsese). This one doesn’t have the heart to carry on past two hours.
I recommend seeing this Verbinski flick, absolutely. Just don’t expect exactly what the trailer pitches, which is a solid rule for all movies. Also, be prepared for the story’s reach to exceed its grasp. Truly wanted to love this. Came out feeling lukewarm. Definitely well made, if only the writing measured up to the cinematography, the score, and the immense talent of its two leads.

The Path – Season 2, Episode 6: “For Our Safety”

Hulu’s The Path
Season 2, Episode 6: “For Our Safety”
Directed by Norberto Barba
Written by Justin Doble

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Why We Source” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Providence” – click here
pic-1We begin with Sarah Lane (Michelle Monaghan) taking part in a purifying ritual, of sorts. She sits by a fire, smokes from a Native American-style pipe. Her guilt. The face of a dead and rotting Silas. That poisoned cow. Images flash through her mind. She and Eddie (Aaron Paul) making love; the strange scar on his back. Everything passes like flipping through photographs.
Speaking of Eddie, he’s with Chloe Jones (Leven Rambin) and they’re out socialising, with un-cult people. Something he’s not used to anymore. But bless him, he’s trying hard to reintegrate back into the real world.
Hawk (Kyle Allen) has made a decision: he’s moving into the city. “Theres so much need and injustice in this world and Im just, sitting here in this big, warm, comfortable house.” He doesn’t want to be all talk. He wants to do actual work. The time inside jail changed him. For the better? Impossible to tell yet.
pic-2Oh, poor Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). Always something to plague him. Whether it’s a past due notice from the IRS, a murder he committed, a secret baby – there’s forever a burden on his shoulders; self-inflicted or otherwise. Soon enough Hawk arrives and finds that Cal’s trying to play dad, hampering his need to get into the city.
Meanwhile, Eddie runs off from his barbecue with Chloe to meet with his wife, both in their glee. Oh, my. I foresee a snap of tension in this little plot sooner than later. Because already she’s missing from a meeting Cal has called. Alas, they go on. Abe Gaines (Rockmond Dunbar), a.k.a Sam Field, tells the crowd of their new security measures: ID badges for everyone coming in and out of the compound. This puts worry into many, including Kodiak (James Remar) and Richard (Clark Middleton), though the former a lot more. And then there’s Nicole (Ali Ahn), who angles for her husband Russel (Patch Darragh) to be the Guardian of the Light with Cal instead of her sister-in-law. Again, all the pressure lands on the shoulders of Mr. Roberts, taking everything and anything personally.
Kodiak: “The snakes poison is finally hitting our bloodstream.”
In the city, Noa (Britne Oldford) questions Hawk and his motivations, acting as if he knows the racial struggle of black people after spending a few nights in prison, reading a slice of James Baldwin. However, Hawk refuses to apologise for caring about the “disparity” between treatment of white people and people of colour, in all walks of life. Maybe he’ll be a freedom fighter yet.
Now Cal’s followed Sarah, he has found her embracing lovingly with Eddie. Is her lie about feeling anything for her estranged husband going to push Cal over an edge? Well, in a moment of vindictive anger he decides on playing dad to Hawk further. He also now wants the young man to climb to 2R, with him alongside as a guide. Of course the kid’s thrilled. Can’t be sure that isn’t all a way for Cal to try breaking up the Lanes past what they’ve already broken so far.
Simultaneously, Eddie tells his support group about his guilt over still loving his wife and spending time with Chloe. He’s stuck in the “hive mind” of Meyerism, the horrid cult. With everything going on, between him and Sarah, Hawk’s falling away from him, he feels stuck between two worlds.
There are other nasty things brewing. Such as when Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell) seems to cast a bit of judgement onto Sarah. And now this stirs up things in Sarah, wondering about who knows what, what Cal’s intentions are, so on. Note: another bunch of good examples in this episode of how Cal gets physically cast in shadow during many scenes, all working towards the idea of a duality and a darkness in him.
Stranger things come to a head when Richard doesn’t like what Kodiak is planning, talking about a boy being held over Steve’s head, all kinds of wild things, and then decides on locking him away in a little room. Shit.


On and on the Meyerist nonsense goes, as Cal starts Hawk’s climb with monotonous chores, repetition of mantras. When Sarah shows up the kid bolts, too righteous even for his own mother. So, she and Cal head out for tea together, and surely some passive-aggressiveness on both parts. And definitely on his side, without fucking doubt. He’s a danger because that passive-aggressive nature eventually, for him, boils over into vicious, real anger. Extremely dangerous, as we’ve seen already.
His attitude only drives Sarah back into Eddie’s arms, which leaves the couple both wondering what happens next. “Why are you here?” Eddie asks his wife. He wants to get to the bottom of their shared anguish. It isn’t hard to understand why Sarah is mixed up, after Steve going, then Eddie, now Hawk’s slipping from her grasp. Then out of nowhere, Eddie tells her about his time in Peru, when he got hit by lightning. His vision of Steve sent him there: “He wasnt some magic, immortal light. He was a god damn man.” What he now realises is that Sarah has been under a spell, so many years, one that will not break. She doesn’t care that Steve withered away, he’s gone to the Light, no matter what. Ugly psychological state. Yuck.
But what about ole honest Abe? He’s got his eye trained on the whole place, watching, waiting for something big. I wonder how long until Cal slips up hard, trusting ‘Sam’ too much.


Kodiak remembers a time with Steve, unburdening himself. He killed a man once. Then as they conduct a session, young Cal walks in. How much did he hear, exactly? Hmm.
Off on his own, Hank (Peter Friedman) goes to see somebody – his other daughter. He’s been doing this awhile. They chat, smoke cigarettes. What’s clearer every episode is that Hank feels left behind, that the commune he built long ago has become something else, unrecognisable.
During a session, Sarah tells Richard about sleeping with Eddie. He says that love is stronger than faith, though weakens them. He guides her through memories, of she and Eddie. Then she must mentally turn him away, turn away from him. And in the session, she reveals Eddie was struck by lightning. This startles Richard, deeply.
He’s sure now: Eddie killed Steve.
Eddie, he’s out with Chloe at a wedding. Trying to be normal, whatever that is, really. There’s something awakening in him, but that’s constantly held back by his former life. No matter how hard he starts falling for Chloe, some piece of the old cult still hauls him backward.
pic-8What will happen next? This was an excellent episode, once more. Some say this second season isn’t holding up, and I have no idea what they’re talking about! Crazy, man. This is a great follow-up to the first season. Many mysteries left unsolved.

Father Gore’s Top 205

In no particular order, these are 205 of Father Gore’s favourite films. Crossing all genres, sub-genres, and decades, not only limited to the love of horror. A little blurb added for each entry on the list.

Before you start, remember: it’s great if you have movies you think I should love, and if you do make a list. Otherwise, stick to telling me if you hate or love the choices I’ve made. I’ve seen over 4,000 films, I know there are plenty choices aside from these 205 picks.
But these are MY picks.
So here we go.


The Long Goodbye (1973)longgoodbyeAltman has many great pieces of work. The Long Goodbye is forever my favourite for a few reasons. One of those is Elliott Gould. Another is Leigh Brackett’s adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel, adjusted for the ’70s. And of course Altman’s style gives this film a feel very much its own.

Bullhead (2011)bullheadA contemporary Greek tragedy, set in Belgium amongst the world of the hormone mafia. Matthias Schoenaerts is intense and perfect as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a man who suffered a terrible assault as a boy which left him battling against violent masculinity for the rest of his life. One of the most devastating, tender, conflicted films I’ve ever seen. Masterpiece.

Antichrist (2009)antichristI know that Lars von Trier is a hugely divisive name even to mention in conversation, let alone in a discussion for one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. But, here we are, and he’s at the top of my list as a director. Antichrist appears, on the surface, a misogynistic film in and of itself. Therein lies von Trier’s genius, as he uses the film to effectively dissect the many ideologies in which misogyny thrives, from psychiatry to Catholicism and more. Dafoe and Gainsbourg are fearless to have taken on these roles.

Don’t Look Now (1973)dont-look-nowCertain horror films don’t have to drown you in blood or jump scares or masked killers to be terrifying. Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier story Don’t Look Now is one of those movies that can trick you into feeling like it’s one thing, then shifting to reveal it is something else altogether. Great performances, masterful direction, and powerfully written, this is an examination of grief gone tragically wrong.

Videodrome (1983)videodromeIn this Croenenberg classic, one of his many, philosophy meets horror meets the human body, when James Woods’ Max Renn stumbles down the rabbit hole of a strange program called Videodrome. Also features a stellar performance out of Blondie’s Debbie Harry. And out of this world special makeup effects accomplished by the legendary Rick Baker.

Catch Me Daddy (2014)catch-me-daddyThis one stunned me. It’s a quietly unsettling thriller with characters coming together from various walks of life in a cultural melting pot which we see in all its beauty and all its darkness. Trust me: go into this one without knowing much, appreciate the depth of the story, its characters. Some films can help you understand people, other cultures, and the world better.

The Night Porter (1974)the-night-porterI’ll write about this one at length some time. Right now I’ll say that I can understand why some might not enjoy this film, especially if connected personally by family to the Holocaust. I can never understand how watching a film like this as a Jewish man or woman might feel. Nevertheless, from my perspective, I do enjoy this film because I believe it exposes uncomfortable truths, or at least presents them for us to see in the cruel light of day.

La Dolce Vita (1960)la-dolce-vitaI don’t care if people think it’s snobbish to love Fellini. Fuck that. One of the most revolutionary cinematic artists of the 20th century. I love this movie so much I have the title tattooed from my hip up to my arm on my right side. Just see it.

Talk Radio (1988)talk-radioWhen people talk about free speech, my mind never fails to sweep to thoughts of Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio. There might never have been an actor better suited to a role than Eric Bogosian to that of Barry Champlain. A searing look at free speech in its many forms, as well as how far people will go to silence it (in many ways). An important piece of cinema from a director who’s made several incredibly important films.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)a-lizard-in-a-womans-skinLucio Fulci is so well known for his various nasty horror efforts, whether Zombie or The House by the Cemetery and others. For me, outside of his campy horror fun, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is objectively his most interesting and well made movie. It’s a mind bender, so there are a lot of spectacular visuals, showing that Fulci wasn’t a one hit wonder on the same horror note for years. He was often capable of real good stuff, camp or otherwise.

Last Night (1998)last-nightWritten and directed by Don McKellar, this is possibly the most Canadian vision of the end of the world you’ll likely ever see. With a top notch cast including Sandra Oh and McKellar himself, David Croenenberg, Sarah Polley, you can’t go wrong with this one. Not only that, it’s one of those end of the world scenarios you’re never totally clued in on, and so part of the film’s joy is the ultimate mystery of things, leaving the focus totally on all the people scrambling to enjoy their last night on Earth.

Seconds (1966)secondsOne of the greatest sci-fi films in existence. John Frankenheimer – legend – directs Rock Hudson in this fascinating, and equally horrifying, story of what it might be like to start life over, literally, and take on a new face, a new path. Except things aren’t always as good as they seem at first. There is such gorgeously inventive cinematography that you’ve got to see it to believe that it was made in ’66. But of course it was, because artists were thriving and starting to open themselves up to anything and everything new. A great instance of innovative cinema.

Carnival of Souls (1962)carnival-of-soulsHerk Harvey’s low budget chiller is one of the few movies that genuinely makes me want to turn all the lights on. At first you feel like it’s going to be a generic bit of horror, then everything gets spookier and spookier until the nightmarish finale refuses to let you go.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)aguirreThere’s an aura surrounding every one of Werner Herzog’s films, no matter if it’s a documentary or a fictional feature, historic, whatever. He has a special feeling. And when you add Herzog to Klaus Kinski, it’s a game changer, in every film they worked on together. Their fiery friendship provided excellence on screen. This movie in particular hits the perfect notes with me, as you get to see the cruelty and madness and greed of man set against the gorgeous, humble qualities of nature.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)picnic-at-hanging-rockA horror mystery without any explicit horror. Picnic at Hanging Rock, one of Peter Weir’s finest, is a haunting look at the loss of innocence, the transition between when girls are girls and when they become women, among other themes. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, this is a classic, and one that will probably remain with you long after the credits finish rolling.

Tyrannosaur (2011)tyrannosaurSeveral reasons why this is a cinematic heavyweight. First, you’ve got actor turned director Paddy Considine giving us his all (and a deeply affecting screenplay), next to Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman in equally powerful roles. Second, the importance of the story is unimaginable until you’ve seen it for yourself, I won’t give any of it away. Just know that it isn’t an easy watch, there are a few moments of traumatic violence, though most is either suggested or after-the-fact edited; still, an at times tough experience. But again, an important experience.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)the-thin-blue-lineA handful of documentaries, maybe more, have actually changed the world, in various ways. This 1988 Errol Morris classic didn’t just give a boost of energy to the crime documentary as a whole genre, it also helped the case of a man in jail for a murder he insisted he did not commit. Saying anything more will ruin it. Trust me, Morris’ style mixed with the extraordinary details of this specific case makes for one of the most compelling documentaries you’ll ever watch. I can put this one on back to back. Also due to the fact Philip Glass gives us an original masterpiece of a score to enjoy along the way.

Spoorloos (1988)spoorloosMystery, tension enough to choke you. A fantastically written screenplay that defines the idea of intricate storytelling, and somehow manages to reel you in while also showing you (almost) everything. The remake is absolute garbage, don’t bother. This original is fierce, moody bit of horror that works on your psychological state with deliberately rough hands. And it works a charm. This is one of those films I’ll never forget as long as I live.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)beyond-the-black-rainbowSome say there’s no real plot, or that this goes nowhere. I say Beyond the Black Rainbow is the most original film of the decade. Like a fever dream, a collage of ideas moulding into one, director-writer Panos Cosmatos brings a unique vision of the 1980s and New Age psychiatry, feeling like part David Cronenberg, part David Lynch, part Ridley Scott. Yet somehow all its own beautiful thing.

Exotica (1994)exoticaAtom Egoyan; national Canadian treasure. There’s an Altman-esque cast of characters in this film, all of whom connect, each with their own desires and emotions running wild. I can never get this one out of my head. Egoyan is someone whose films I dig, very much, though Exotica constantly sticks out because of its simultaneous strangeness and normality rolled into one.

Scarecrow (1973)scarecrowSometimes a pair of actors come together complimenting one another in the perfect ways. Scarecrow is a truly classic American movie, joining the ever awesome Gene Hackman with an up and coming Al Pacino, as two down and out types trying to make their way in the world, despite their problems. There’s one especially harrowing moment, but other than that this is a heartwarming story in places, even if it’s as much a sad one at times.

Bulworth (1998)BULWORTHOthers might pass this off. I wouldn’t if I were you. Warren Beatty is just too funny in this political satire. As a politician ready to give up, Senator Jay Bulworth takes out a hit on himself, only to want to take the offer off the table when he meets a young black woman who inspires him. After which he becomes a rapping political sensation, turning his back on his previously Conservative ideals to a more socially progressive outlook. True perfection, one of the best comedies in history.

Three… Extremes (2004)three-extremesThis is a three-for-one deal, with three short films from three impressive Asian directors – Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike, and Chan-wook Park. I won’t say anything else because these need to be seen fresh, you won’t see it coming! I will say this much, they’re all great. But if pressed to pick I’d choose Miike’s chilling short “Box” as my top pick. Nevertheless, they’ll all make you feel strange.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)paradise-lostIf, like myself, you grew up enjoying the darker side of life – horror movies, heavy metal, reading about serial killers and Aleister Crowley and other strange things – then HBO’s Paradise Lost is all the more chilling. A look at justice in small town America, where three young boys, one of whom has an IQ so low he is legally mentally disabled, were charged with a vicious crime they did not commit. This is every bit a documentary, though certain moments feel genuinely theatrical. Such a devastating movie, each time I watch it I can’t help imagine how these young men felt at the time.

Killing Zoe (1993)killing-zoeRoger Avary directed and wrote this 1993 gem, and its original feel, its strangeness, they suck you in quickly. When American Zed (Eric Stoltz) turns up in Paris to help his old friend Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade) commit a robbery, events spiral out of control, and what once seemed a foolproof robbery descends into chaos. There’s excitement, there’s snappy dialogue, another solid performance from Julie Delpy, plus more! A weird, wild thrill ride from start to finish.

Absentia (2011)absentiaWith a string of great films already, Mike Flanagan is a fresh breath in the world of horror. His little flick Absentia is one that haunted me deeply after seeing it for the first time. There’s a quiet terror about the story, allowing for plenty eerie imagery alongside marvellous characters and even better performances. The human qualities of this ghostly, supernatural story are what anchors it in reality to make it get under your skin even further.

Pusher (1996)pusherBefore coming into his elevated style (which I do love), Nicolas Winding Refn explored the bare grittiness of Copenhagen’s underground, the drug dealing scene, through the eyes of a pusher named Frank (Kim Bodnia). There are all kinds of seedy characters, and as Frank makes his way through a hellish day or so he comes into contact with the worst of the worst. Refn takes us into his life with a cinema verite-type focus, making the audience feel like they’re right there in the streets.
My reviews of the whole trilogy are here.

With Blood on My Hands: Pusher II (2004)pusher-iiRefn continues his series with another entry that touches on issues you might never expect to see in most crime/drug-related films. Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen) returns after the first film, fresh out of jail, and faces a life on the outside where his father hates his existence, he has an unexpected child with a woman who hates him, and everything is different than it was once upon a time. This is like a hard smack in the face, as we move just slightly adjacent to the first film to explore something other than drugs: a family under the pressure of hard living, from criminality to addiction to the longing for acceptance and love.

Brotherhood (2009)brotherhoodA beautiful, brutal, tragic film about two men entrenched in the violent ideology of white nationalism while also falling in love with each other. Brotherhood explores a topic we don’t often see, and does so with a rare tenderness. There are difficult ideas at play, but above all it’s a love story about two men wanting something they know they can have and rejecting it outwardly because they’re lost, lonely, looking for anywhere to belong. See this. Recommend it to racists and watch them seethe.

The Third Part of the Night (1971)the-third-part-of-the-nightAndrzej Żuławski is well known for his ’81 horror headtrip Possession. My personal favourite of his work is The Third Part of the Night, which takes us into a strange, internalised look at the effects of living under fascist rule. This is equal parts horror and equal parts philosophy. Go in with an open mind. Worth your time.
Need a full review? Click here.

Infernal Affairs (2002)infernal-affairsI’ll always dig Scorsese’s remake. The best, without a doubt, is the original Infernal Affairs. There’s so much perfect directing, editing, dialogue, tension. Scorsese had a bit more comedy in there, which worked. But this one takes a hardline, serious look at its plot, in turn giving the whole thing an added, thick air of suspense from top to bottom.

The Crucible (1996)the-crucibleOne of the greatest plays ever written, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible takes on a new life on screen. Daniel Day-Lewis is phenomenal, as are the rest of the cast; he takes the cake, from execution to preparation. Most of all, the analogy of the Salem Witch Hunt and the American witch hunt for Communists during Miller’s era is always compelling, and even when you’re fully sucked into the period piece story, the contemporary political leanings of the story are never, ever far.

The French Connection (1971)the-french-connectionThere are good directors, there are great directors. There are also directors in the pantheon of cinema giants, near the top of which sits William Friedkin. Several of his films are on my Top 200+ list. The French Connection is one of the best examples of pure action, and one which also exemplifies how to make an action movie with excitement, heart, and intelligence. Throw in a stellar bit of Gene Hackman, some Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider; what more could you want? And that fucking car chase. God damn.

Brick (2005)brickAs if Raymond Chandler wrote a YA novel. Rian Johnson’s Brick hit me like a ton of them. It is totally infectious in every way. Directed, written, acted, edited to perfection. Don’t read much about it. Go in unknown. The mysterious plot will keep you riveted, I can just about guarantee. Always love an eccentric cast of characters, too.

Maniac (2012)maniacIs it blasphemous to love a remake more than the original? Fuck it. Whereas the 1980 original is disturbing in its own right, the 2012 Maniac remake takes you into the eyes of a killer, literally. Shot in 1st person POV, Elijah Wood takes us inside a psychopath with chilling results. Not everyone’s cup of tea. To me, an inventive piece of horror that challenges our idea of empathy towards characters.
My full review over here.

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)bringing-out-the-deadAn unheralded Scorsese gem, same goes for the Cage performance. This is a weird journey through Manhattan with a burnt out paramedic who starts questioning his efficiency as a lifesaving agent. There are existential questions abound, as well as questions about how people handle the dangerous and nasty careers not everyone is cut out to do. Cage is like a tour guide through the dark depths of Manhattan and the human soul at once.

Miller’s Crossing (1990)millers-crossingThe Coen Brothers are treasures, so many great films under their belt. This one makes the list because it’s a gangster movie, yet it is so unlike most in the genre. There’s the typical wit and charm of the Coens’ writing, then the performances give impressive weight to the screenplay. Best of all, Miller’s Crossing is hard to pinpoint, and the story continues unfolding in such a fun, unexpected way that by the time it’s over you’ll wonder how you got there.

The Seventh Seal (1957)the-seventh-sealIngmar Bergman made plenty of quality films, several masterpieces; many, even. Forever, his depiction of the Medieval Age and the inevitability of death, its looming certainty, is one of the best visions of when the Black Plague took hold in Europe. There’s such a high degree of symbolism that you can find so much to enjoy. The two lead performances are magic, as well.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)dawn-of-the-deadI actually love Day of the Dead most of all. However, Dawn of the Dead is Romero’s most important zombie film. It takes subtle (and not so subtle) shots at the rabid consumerism of American culture, even just the setting itself stands in for sociopolitical commentary if you want to see it that way. Most of all, the strange look and feel, the zombies, Tom Savini, and lots of other fun makes this a memorable bit of horror. There’s also a palpable air of ultimate dread, and not many can tap into that like Romero. Even some of the other great zombie flicks can’t come close to touching its atmosphere.

Barton Fink (1991)barton-finkAnother Coen Brothers classic. This is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be a writer. But there’s more to Barton Fink than that. At once it touches on the madness of the film industry, the futility of being an artist in the Hollywood system, as well as dives into issues of anti-Semitism and identity. There’s too much to love about this one, not the least of which is one of John Turturro’s finest moments on screen.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)the-last-temptation-of-christRaised in a Catholic house, I eventually was given the choice to do what I wanted around 12 when my parents asked whether I wanted to keep going to church or not. I chose not, and for the past 19 years and counting I’ve been a non-believer. That being said, I still find religion and its stories intriguing. Scorsese dives deep into the humanity at the heart of the faith with which many identify. And at the core of this film are certain things I understand, despite my lack of religion. A testament to Scorsese’s power as a filmmaker and visionary.
Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing the religious humanism of Scorsese’s film with Carl Th. Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Proposition (2005)the-propositionMy personal favourite Western, John Hillcoat’s The Proposition takes the genre over to the Outback in its early days, as the law attempted to rein in the madness of an untamed land. The story and its execution are impressive. What I dig most about this Hillcoat film is its focus on aesthetic. Never will you feel so utterly filthy after watching cinema than when this is over. You can all but smell Guy Pearce. This is a disturbing, emotional, tension-filled Western which features a few fine tuned performances from Pearce, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, and the great Danny Huston.
And yes, I have more to say.

High Tension (2003)high-tensionA brutal slasher with a psychothriller twist, Alexandre Aja’s High Tension is an atmospheric bit of horror. Even after you’ve experienced the twist watching the film over again is a lot of fun. You can try piecing together the mystery afterwards from the start, and it may even help you notice some little clues. No matter – just as a gory slasher, the whole thing works.
Props to Cécile De France in particular for her performance, which required emotion and nuance at every turn. Also, Philippe Nahon does well as the serial killer at the centre of the plot.
Rip through a review with me here.

Sound of My Voice (2011)sound-of-my-voiceThis atypical look at a fictional cult is simultaneously creepy and heartwarming in doses. Two of The OA‘s producers-writers Zal Batmanglij (also director) and Brit Marling co-wrote this mysterious 2011 thriller, so if you’ve seen the Netflix show and haven’t yet seen this: dig in. There are common threads in the show and Sound of My Voice, although ultimately they’re vastly different. Above all, Marling plays a wildly believable yet out there cult leader, as Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius round out the cast with two characters trying to get to the bottom of this cult.
What happens throughout verges on something between dream and reality; it’s up to you to decide, in the end, which is which for each character.

The Man from Nowhere (2010)the-man-from-nowhereAsian films of all genres are amazing, there are so many of them that it’s hard to pick a favourite, or even a top ten of favourites (or a top twenty…). But on this list of 205 films, The Man from Nowhere deserves a spot. There’s a wonderful air of mystery surrounding the titular man, whose past – for much of the film – is kept under wraps, until it’s obvious he is a man with whom you shouldn’t trifle. We also get a beautifully loving story, as well as kick ass action and fight scenes. This one has everything. As the plot evolves, you’ll get sucked in tight to the screen until the final moments.

Nosferatu (1922)nosferatuThere’s simply no denying that F. W. Murnau made one of the greatest horror films in the history of cinema. Almost a whole century later, Nosferatu remains terrifying. Some film fans, though I question their validity, don’t dig on older films as much as more contemporary works. And that’s a major mistake.
Murnau utilised plenty of innovative techniques in order to make this unofficial Dracula adaptation a beacon of German Expressionism and a horror that would never lose its power. There’s an altogether eerie atmosphere from the first scene to the last. Another 100 years, people will still find this frightening.

The Jerk (1979)the-jerkOne of the funniest comedies ever made. Steve Martin is a hilarious tour-de-force as a white boy adopted by a black family, who believes that when he gets old enough his skin will change to match his parents, brothers, and sisters. When he discovers the truth and then sets out on his own, there’s no telling where he’ll end up.
But the fact is, Martin carries every single moment of the film in which he appears, and is the major reason why so many of the gags and jokes work to perfection.

Persona (1966)Persona (1966) Filmografinr: 1966/18My favourite Bergman experience is, bar none, Persona. Many of his films are so human that they hold immense beauty. Something about this one is both human and also otherworldly, as the characters played by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann slowly merge into one entity. Exactly why, how, all those questions, are left to the viewer to understand. As I said – this film is an experience. Not just that, since ’66 this Bergman classic has influenced everyone from David Fincher to Denis Villeneuve to many more, and will continue to do so until people don’t have eyes or hears.

The Chaser (2008)the-chaserHong-jin Na has since made The Yellow Sea and most recently The Wailing, however, it’s his 2008 film The Chaser that captivated me most. Inspired by the story of real life South Korean serial killer and cannibal Yoo Young-chul, this thriller is crafty and it’s likewise a thrilling 125 minutes. To say anything further would do you a disservice. Watch, enjoy, be disturbed and elated by the mystery, the tension. You won’t regret this choice.

Prince of Darkness (1987)prince-of-darknessThere are many John Carpenter flicks I absolutely love. None more than 1987’s Prince of Darkness. Because Carpenter merges the ideas of religion and science, making the concept of Satan into something far more ugly, sinister, threatening than just a name in a book meaning evil. The special effects, the score, Alice Cooper’s unsettling cameo, the creeping plot; everything adds up to a top notch bit of horror. Yet another JC gem!

Lady Vengeance (2005)lady-vengeanceChan-wook Park’s revenge trilogy is great, all around. One of my favourites is Lady Vengeance. It takes on the female perspective and also dives into a raw, disturbing story which culminates in the expected revenge we’ve seen from Park in his other films from the trilogy. Parts of the crimes involved are about as eerie as some of the disturbing bits in Oldboy, so buckle up.

Oldboy (2003)oldboyI remember hearing Quentin Tarantino rave about Oldboy after it was released, and he’s always been an inspiration to me as a writer/director hopeful. So I checked it out, fell in love. Sure, it is wildly disturbing particularly at the end. Something within that nastiness is riveting.
More than that the directorial choices of Chan-wook Park are so beautiful. No matter if he’s got his main character wielding a hammer and bashing people up, eating a live octopus, or learning about the world through television, Park makes every moment worth relishing in. Pure odd and wild delights to be had.

A Prophet (2009)a-prophetPrison films are a dime a dozen. Because of that there’s a wide variety of shitty ones. Just as many great ones, too. A recent amazing story set inside prison walls is A Prophet. When a young Arab man is sent to jail he has to do whatever it takes to survive, and after receiving an offer – either kill someone for one of the gangs, or the gang kills you – he ends up on a fast ride to the top of the food chain.
If you’re looking for a more realistic gangster movie, and one that takes place in jail, this is the ticket. Like parts of Scarface (the Arab’s feeling of being an outsider reminds me, a tiny bit, of Tony Montana’s struggle), Bad Boys (1983), and Animal Factory mixed together. But nothing’s lifted from any of the classics, nor its inspirations. A Prophet gives the goods, with flashes of absolute brilliance and violence in spades.

Altered States (1980)altered-statesWhatever Ken Russell does is, often, borderline genius and madness. Sometimes he falls off a bit. For the most part he’s a legendary director worth his weight in gold. The first time I saw Altered States was when I used to do drugs (been clean now as of this writing for almost 9 years), I took mushrooms and, boy… what a trip.
Later when I got away from all the drugs and I actually stopped drinking too (7 years sober), I revisited this Russell headtrip. Because I knew that there was something worth the effort. I watch it at least a couple times a year, finding new things to love. The heart of it never changes for me, and Paddy Chayefsky’s words beam like that first star in the night, never failing to catch me, grab hold. William Hurt is one of my favourite actors; here, he does amazing stuff, and in his first feature film no less. There’s nothing bad about this movie. Even in its zaniest scenes.

Caché (2005)cacheOn the list of my favourite directors, near the top sits Michael Haneke. He’s also a terrific writer to boot. Caché is my favourite of his, though that’s a hard choice either way. I sort of feel like Haneke is a less surreal version of David Lynch, and vice versa. They each deal in ideas that are hard to pin down, not necessarily easy to understand. And they make you think.
Caché takes on ideas of white guilt, colonialism, and inevitable vengeance. It deals with the stories people tell themselves, the narratives they create in order to live with the stories of their lives. All the actors are equally as wonderful in their respective roles, giving depth to their characters as an eerie tale precipitated by voyeurism wraps them up.
You want more?

Bug (2006)bugFriedkin takes a Tracy Letts screenplay, based on Letts’ own 1996 play, and transforms it into a psycho-thriller full of drama and horror alike. Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are unforgettable, as they go on a dual transformation fuelled by paranoia. What Friedkin does best is retain the aspects of the stage play which made it tense. He then amplifies everything using the medium of film, making the performances larger than life and the atmosphere thick with a terror not usually seen. Shannon, in particular, is part of that terror, bringing it on with every breath.

Shorts Cuts (1993)short-cutsLike a marriage made in Heaven – Altman and Raymond Carver. Perhaps best because of the director’s affinity for weaving around a multitude of characters. This fits so perfectly due to the fact Altman takes nine short stories and whittles them into a 3-hour film, encompassing 22 different characters altogether. Zipping through the various spaces of Los Angeles – changed from Carver’s Pacific Northwest settings – the legendary director makes every character interesting, worth watching. Some stories are more disturbing than others, yet they all hold both the sweet and the sour; something Carver was great at in his writing. This is one of the greatest films, not just my favourite. I genuinely feel this is one of the best ever made, certainly one of Altman’s best, too.

The White Ribbon (2009)the-white-ribbonAgain, a Haneke film appears on the list. I could’ve put a bunch on here, but needed to make room for other cinema I love. What’s so interesting about The White Ribbon is how Haneke explores the origins of evil, set in a German village just prior to World War I. He dives into an entirely universal way of seeing evil, through the lens of this strange place and its inhabitants. There’s a blanket of dread that Haneke lays atop every scene, never letting up. Even those not huge on black-and-white cinematography might find themselves drawn to the images on screen from one minute to the next.

Mysterious Skin (2004)mysterious-skinOne of the most difficult, if not THE most difficult films on this list to watch. Trust me though, if you can get through this Gregg Araki tale then it’s worth all the effort. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving away parts of the plot. Just understand that, while disturbing during certain scenes, Mysterious Skin was filmed in the best way possible to protect the young actors. Plus, the story dissects the effects of child abuse on people as they start to age with a haunting, nuanced blade. Not many directors other than Araki could have made this film, definitely not as good or – believe it or not – as tender as him.

Kill List (2011)kill-listAnother of my favourite filmmakers, Ben Wheatley, turns up on this list a couple times. All his flicks are spectacular, in my eyes. Kill List takes the cake for me. Not just for its crime and horror mix n’ match story, but also for the way Wheatley slow burns through the plot. To the very last moment there’s a curiosity, a dark one, about where things are headed. And you’ll never guess where. That’s part of that dark excitement.

In the Bedroom (2001)in-the-bedroomThis Todd Field feature is powerful. So much potent drama involving families, the want for justice – or revenge – and all kinds of other themes. There’s a realistic feel to the people in this film, and the story is so organic that it flows in front of you like you’re hearing someone tell a story. Field is a fine director, and writer. Mainly he’s capable of taking us steady through a weaving set of lives which all make up the life of a small town, where everyone knows each other and what’s happening with everybody else. You won’t ever forget the climax or the resolution of In the Bedroom.

The Devils (1971)the-devilsYet again, Mr. Russell and his excellence returns to the list! This is one of those fabled films, blasphemous and wild in content, based on the true (dramatised, obviously) story of 17th century Roman Catholic priest Urbain Grandier, who was executed for involvement in witchcraft. Alongside Oliver Reed as Grandier is the ever perfect Vanessa Redgrave playing one of the mad nuns accusing the priest of having influenced them with black magic.
Put it this way – there’s a sequence called The Rape of the Christ, and if you can track down the uncut version of the film it’s a proper treat. A devilish good time.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)the-treasure-of-the-sierra-madreIf ever there were a story of greed, this one is king. John Huston is forever one of the greatest directors to have ever lived. There’s so much to love about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. From its wonderful cinematography courtesy of the magical Ted D. McCord (East of EdenThe Sound of Music; nominated for 3 Oscars), to Huston’s adaptation of B. Traven’s novel, to the fact Huston directed his father Walter alongside Humphrey Bogart.
Today, this movie still stands as relevant. I know that’s said a lot. Just take a cold, hard look at what the film is saying, how it navigates the brutality of greed in the name of the supposed American Dream. Nothing has really changed, only the medium of greed.

Possession (1981)possessionAndrzej Żuławski is one of my other favourite directors. Such an auteur, especially in his niche, which is somewhere between surreal horror and psychological horror, mixing in significant points of history now and then. Possession throws all those things into the bowl, though Żuławski goes into a Lovecraftian mode and takes a staggeringly frightening look at the nature of relationships in terms of how people – men – often wish to possess their mate.
But what happens when someone, or something, else possesses the person you want to possess? Dig in with me.

The Lords of Salem (2012)the-lords-of-salemNot everybody loves Rob Zombie. For me, he’s one of the more fun horror filmmakers post-2000 because he does the whole retro thing well. Not just that, he gets to the savagery and the nastiness many horror fans seem to want, and yet people are so fickle. I do understand, he isn’t for everybody.
The Lords of Salem is a different film out of his catalogue, though. This is a wild look at witchcraft, addiction and recovery, and the imagery is perhaps the best Zombie’s offered to date. This is different than his throwback pieces – still dig them, all the same – giving us another side of artistry than we’ve ever seen out of him. Weird, disturbing, horrific; a wonderful genre mix!

Inside (2007)inside Not many horrors should come with warnings. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s Inside is one that ought to tell pregnant women: turn away! If you’re even squeamish about pregnancy, in any sort of sense, it’s likely best to watch through your fingers, or not watch at all.
When a crazy woman stalks a pregnant lady in her home, trying to break in, trying to kill her, one night becomes a fight for survival in the most visceral way. I won’t say anymore because you have to see it to believe the horror. Bustill and Maury are a fascinating team with a bunch of great titles to their names; they’re also the directors of the upcoming Leatherface many of us horror enthusiasts are dying to see.

I Am the Angel of Death: Pusher III (2005)i-am-the-angel-of-death-pusher-iiiWhile I love the other two films of Refn’s trilogy dearly, this third film might actually be my favourite, and my vote for the best of them. Zlatko Buric returns as the drug dealing gangster/hopeful chef Milo, likely the best performance of his career. There are a lot of things happening. However, watching Milo trying to balance a new sober life, his drug business, his daughter getting married (and him agreeing to cook for everyone) is a mesmerising experience. Refn keeps the gritty, realistic style of the first two movies and brings back characters we’ve seen before. The best of the film is Buric, as he allows a penetrating look into an ageing criminal whose guilt is catching up with him more everyday.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)monty-pythons-the-meaning-of-lifeEven some of Monty Python don’t think this movie was so great. Me? I fucking love it, every last segment, each second. There are too many funny characters to even gloss over in a paragraph. What I dig about this film is the scope: the meaning of life. Might’ve been a lofty goal. There’s something perfectly fitting, though. Watching the Pythons in all their glory navigating every aspect of our daily lives, including drips and drops of hilarious history, is breathtakingly funny. From “Every Sperm is Sacred” and the hymnal “Oh Lord Please Don’t Burn Us”, to John Cleese’s schoolteacher and his wife demonstrating sexual intercourse for the class, to Eric Idle’s “Penis Song” and the grotesque Mr. Creosote, every inch of The Meaning of Life is perfect to me.
Above all else, this Python flick contains my favourite Graham Chapman moment, as he rails to his wife (Idle in drag): “Look at them, bloody Catholics, filling the bloody world up with bloody people they cant afford to bloody feed.” After that his Protestant condom pride is enough to make me choke with laughter. Even before that when Michael Palin’s Catholic dad tells his many kids it’s “medical experiments for the lot of ya” I can’t get through it without a few chuckling tears.

The 400 Blows (1959)the-400-blowsFrançois Truffaut’s got a bunch of excellent films to watch. This one resonates with me because, although it was made in ’59, there are inescapable truths about youth. The 400 Blows takes a close look at how loneliness can become something else, when young people are left to their own devices they do learn things; just not all the right things. Still, watching Antoine struggle with figuring out independence is thrilling. As Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world he is responsible for everything he does.”

Ravenous (1999)ravenousThis Antonia Bird historical horror film is the stuff of dreams. The cast is outrageously great, the writing is so interesting you won’t want to miss a single moment. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography; all of it so well executed. On top of that is a uniquely odd score from Blur’s Damon Albarn and well versed composer Michael Nyman, you’ll never hear anything like it.
Also, Ravenous provides a unique look at manifest destiny, the desire to conquer, wrapped up inside a bloody cannibal story set not long after the Mexican-American War. Guy Pearce and Robert Carlyle shine in two vastly different roles which crash together, providing relentless suspense until the climactic and brutal final scenes.

Sightseers (2012)sightseersMr. Wheatley, a master of many genres. As opposed to the nihilistic (and awesome) Kill List, 2012’s Sightseers is a strange cross of drama, comedy, and very real horror. When an odd couple – Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) – decide to go caravaning for a few days in the country, things take an unexpected, homicidal twist. What starts as a vacation tumbles into a mess of bad timing and even worse decisions after Chris turns out to be quite different than who Tina knew before. But then again, Tina’s not exactly the woman he first met, either.
One of the darkest, funniest bits of comedy in the last decade or more. Wheatley knows how to hit the weirdest notes, no matter what genre he tackles. Check this out when you’re looking for something out of the way.

Festen (1998)festenThis Dogme film is my favourite of the bunch, if pressed to choose. It’s well conceived in the Dogme vision, touching on just about every base they hope to cover. Thomas Vinterberg (originally uncredited as per the Dogme manifesto) breaks through the uncomfortable exterior of a family with hidden secrets. The performance of all actors comes to make this an interesting – and tragic – experience, though it’s Ulrich Thomsen whose shine is brightest. He’s perfect, hauling you directly into his inner life to the point where even while the rest of his family questions his motives the audience feels firmly rooted in his perspective as truth.

Cruising (1980)cruisingThis is my favourite Friedkin film. That’s saying something, because he’s one of those classic masters of cinema in the director’s chair. Cruising is an incredibly intriguing film for a number of reasons. One thing I love is that, in the name of not exploiting the gay community, Friedkin got into a jockstrap and frequented the clubs instead of standing back like someone looking down on the BDSM culture of the story; in all fairness, he was later banned from a couple of the gay clubs, for whatever reason. Also, the screenplay is based on actual murders of gay men happening in the late ’70s. The production and release of the movie were both plagued by protests from the gay community. Personally, I don’t feel Friedkin ever meant anything in this work to feel anti-gay. Rather he wanted to make a movie concerning the gay community simply because of the murders, their impact on gay men, and so on. Either way it’s a twisty psycho-thriller, it’ll get its hook into you.

Halloween (1978)halloweenThe first appearance of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s horror classic is still to this day, and always will be, a horrifying creeper of a film. Nothing else to say. If you want more, I talk about it at length here.

Thief (1981)thiefMichael Mann’s debut feature Thief was an announcement of a passionate, talented, innovative filmmaker on the scene. He’s made a bunch of quality movies; at the top of his heap for me sits this one and Manhunter. In this James Caan-led flick, featuring Willie Nelson and Tuesday Weld, we get a realistic look at a criminal hoping for a bigger dream and a better life comes up against forces beyond his control. Like a microcosm of the elusive American Dream, Thief depicts what happens when the obsession of a criminal to find that last big score gets in the way of better sense.

Repulsion (1965)repulsionI don’t want to talk about Polanski, because that’ll require a whole other massive article. I can’t deny the power of a few of his films, Repulsion in particular. This is a hypnotic, haunting vision of what happens to a woman after an unnamed trauma in her past; or was there any? Until the end we’re never entirely sure, nor does the film provide us with any actual concrete answers, avoiding exposition at most points. What matters most is the imagery. The one above still passes through my mind ever so often, more than you might imagine. At the centre of the film’s powerful force is Catherine Deneuve in the lead role, taking us through a phantasmagoria of the pain in her mind.

Ichi the Killer (2001)ichi-the-killerTakashi Miike is a twisted man, whom I love dearly as a filmmaker. His adaptation of this manga title works me over, so much so I can’t watch it as much as other movies I dig a ton. That doesn’t change the fact it is a legendary piece of cinema. This is one of the most spot on manga adaptations you’ll find, simply for the fact it doesn’t shy away from painting the walls ridiculously with blood, nor does Miike shy from a bit of semen, either. Real stuff, too. Gross. Nevertheless this story is infinitely interesting and nasty.

Bad Education (2004)bad-educationPedro Almodóvar will go down in history as one of cinema’s best. No doubt in my mind he’s already attained such status. I could’ve chosen several different titles of his for my list – The Skin I Live InTalk to HerMatador, or Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – but there’s a truly compelling story that Almodóvar tells in Bad Education from which I can never avert my eyes. A courageous central performance out of Gael García Bernal, an actor who’ll likewise be seen as a great from his generation, makes everything even better. Directed to perfection, Bernal acting circles, a screenplay to wow. Just an outright classic.

Black Christmas (1974)black-christmasI find many movies terrifying, and I’m glad I still do after seeing over 4,000 films – lots of them horror. Black Christmas is one that never fails to creep me out. The voice over the phone alone is the stuff of nightmares. A fantastic cast of women each goes up against the terror of an unseen killer. Nothing more I can say except dig into this vicious little slasher.

Dead Ringers (1988)dead-ringersCronenberg is the Canadian Jesus. Just kidding; Jesus isn’t real. But Cronenberg is, and he’s one of the best out of our country. The way he’s made body horror his own genre in a sense is a feat of unimaginable talent. Perhaps one of the eeriest of his works is Dead Ringers, loosely based on a story of identical twin doctor brothers who were found dead together in their apartment. It features Jeremy Irons, legend in his own right, as both brothers, next to Geneviève Bujold as the object of their creepy obsessions. This movie chills me and it’s not all the time I get genuinely unsettled; certain stories linger, this being one. Just like some of the characters, the audience will feel violated. This is Cronenberg’s intention.

A Bittersweet Life (2005)a-bittersweet-lifeJee-woon Kim is a stellar filmmaker, all around; he’s a powerhouse writer and director combo. This is his best film. Don’t get me wrong – I Saw the DevilA Tale of Two SistersThe Quiet Family, they’re all knockout cinema. I love them all.
A Bittersweet Life is a revenge story for the ages. Beautifully captured by Ji-yong Kim, the look will dazzle you. The characters are rich and they aren’t merely a bunch of people dropped into the plot for garnish. Best of all the climax and end are pure thrill. South Korea has plenty of talented filmmakers. You bet your ass Jee-woon Kim is in the lead of that pack.

The Woodsman (2004)the-woodsmanI enjoy difficult cinema. It doesn’t have to be glossy-looking, it doesn’t need to be artsy. It must, however, be well told from a storytelling perspective. One of the most difficult films I’ve ever seen, yet in a way one of the most rewarding, is 2004’s The Woodsman. Kevin Bacon plays the complicated lead as a man who once committed an unforgivable offence, though one for which he’s served time. Afterwards, facing life as a registered sex offender under watch of a crafty detective (played brilliantly by Mos Def in a career best role), Bacon’s character is faced with redemption or regression.
The way this sensitive material is handled, how it’s handled, is heartbreaking and important and yes, even beautiful. There’s no way to forgive people ultimately for certain acts. Problem being we’ve set up a series of institutions, from jails to hospitals (et cetera), in the name of not just housing criminals, but also rehabilitating them, we’ve already accepted the idea of giving them a second chance. This story digs into all sides of the issue at hand, from how a sex offender actively trying to change himself integrates with the local community and at his new job, to how even those who appear willing to accept them have a breaking point. A must see.

Spring (2014)springJustin Benson and Aaron Moorehead are fresh, fun new voices in the horror genre. I don’t want to say too much about Spring, for fear of ruining even the slightest bit of its surprise elements. It’s a great mix of romance and terror. There’s a weird fiction feel, like reading an awesome story somewhere between a romantic tale of adventure and an H.P. Lovecraft short. You won’t soon forget the wildest moments.

The Boxer (1997)the-boxerMy boy Daniel Day-Lewis is on this list a couple times. This is my top pick for his best role. A story of Belfast, the IRA, the human damage of the cause. Jim Sheridan is the right director for the material, too. There’s nothing fancy here, but the lens through which we see different sides of the IRA and the cause they say they’re fighting for is what makes it all worthwhile. Seeing the struggle of a man trying to live his life in spite of his former life nipping at his heels makes for an intense drama, especially with Day-Lewis bringing out the lead character’s soul with an electric performance.

Silkwood (1983)silkwoodI’m a big time Meryl Streep fan, so fuck the Donald.
But in all seriousness, Streep + classic director Mike Nichols + a screenplay from Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen = possibly the best biopic in the history of film. Honestly. Because it’s well made, well acted – including some Cher and Kurt Russell and Fred Ward and Craig T. Nelson and a dash of David Strathairn – and the steely focus is the tragic true tale of Karen Silkwood.
In a day and age where the conversation surrounding heroic whistleblowers is hotter than ever, with Snowden and Chelsea Manning and more, Silkwood requires a revisit.

Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989)elephantUp there with the likes of Ken Loach is Alan Clarke in dissecting socioeconomic spaces other filmmakers don’t bother to go. There are a few worthy entries in Clarke’s filmography. None better than Elephant.
On the surface this is a very basic short film, less than 40 minutes in length. You see a series of killings. Some short, quick like a shot in the night. Others are more intricate, more difficult. What Clarke does is present the ‘elephant in the room’ which were The Troubles and all the violence in Northern Ireland. The anonymity of the people in the film, characters killed without any development whatsoever, stand in for all the nameless who’ve died in the name of the cause. Another important bit of cinema, not to be missed or dismissed.

Sauna (2008)saunaThis Finnish historical horror is a total mindblower. Within a story about borders being drawn after a two decades long war between Russia and Sweden, director Antti-Jussi Annila weaves haunted imagery and creates an atmospheric period piece that defies explanation. There’s not just spooky horror, there is a slice of history, from the border drawing to early eyeglasses it’s fascinating to watch. Trust me, if you go in with only this little bit of knowledge it’ll prove a rewarding horror experience.

Left Bank (2008)left-bankI can’t say a lot without ruining this eccentric horror. Or is it a horror?
You’ll have to see for yourself. If you want to read a detailed review and be spoiled, head over here.

Beauty (2011)beautyRepressed sexuality is human dynamite. It is dangerous and even life threatening. This 2011 drama dissects the life of a man who exists entirely in the closet, unable or unwilling to let himself come out. He meets with other men in a group for secret sex. He’s a bit of a racist, too. He also lusts after a college-age young man, the son of a friend, which eventually tears open the repression under which he’s lived so long.
Beauty is are hard one to suffer. Make it through the film and there’s much to learn, in my opinion. The road may be hard, but the lessons understood are why the journey’s necessary.

Trainspotting (1996)trainspottingDanny Boyle’s a firecracker full of talent. The reason I love Trainspotting so much is due to the fact I was once addicted to drugs; not heroin, still hardcore addicted. I was also an alcoholic many years. Some of the depths of despair, between ridiculousness and dead seriousness, in the characters is recognisable when you’ve spent time around junkies, of any sort. The acting is impeccable, the story sobering. Irvine Welsh’s novel was tough to get through because of his use of Scottish slang. Once you break through that, similar to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, it’s a treat. Boyle brings so much of the enjoyable qualities in the book to screen, and most of all makes the cast of often times pathetic, yet marvellous in their own sense, characters leap off the screen with the help of solid performances.

Alien (1979)alienAny horror and science fiction cinema fans who don’t love Ridley Scott’s Alien, to my mind, are utterly insane. I just don’t get it. There’s such terror, such quietly horrifying material that it makes no sense why people wouldn’t find it effective. There’s not much more I can say, other than that I could watch this at any given moment. It’s one of the first movies that made me fall in love with practical special effects work and set design because of its ingenuity in both costumes, the effects, and the many cool sets which Scott frames perfectly in this dark, gorgeous classic.

The Lobster (2016)the-lobsterA dark comedy and dystopian vision of human relationships in the all too near future. Yorgos Lanthimos, a peculiar director and writer. This is my favourite of his stuff, so far, though that may change when he and Colin Farrell get together again. This takes some work to understand fully, but if you let the weirdness flow and take it in one scene at a time, The Lobster proves rewarding.

The Godfather (1972)the-godfatherI love Coppola’s The Godfather for different reasons than most of the reviews I’ve ever seen. Mainly, it’s because Coppola and Mario Puzo wrote a perfect screenplay out of Puzo’s own remarkably mediocre novel. I read the book once, years ago, while out in the middle of the woods in a cabin, I remember it vividly. There’s a fair degree of nasty, lengthily described sex, which I found strange. But it’s just as a whole, the novel didn’t catch me, I finished it only to finish what I started. Coppola uses all his talent to make this an undisputed classic. Everything from performances to the locations to the music and cinematography is constructed with great care. And it shows, every inch of the way.

Prisoners (2013)prisonersAn intricately written mystery-thriller. I love Denis Villeneuve and here he proves how thrilling he can get, with a masterful script from Aaron Guzikowski. Hugh Jackman sears the screen like a burst of fire, actually scary at points. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms into Dt. Loki with every nuance his mind can manage. Viola Davis and Terrence Howard play a couple at the end of their rope, yet trying not to fall over the edge.
There’s too many things to love about this dark film. Prisoners, when first released, played on my Blu ray player about five times in one week.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Blu-ray ScreenshotOne of the most genuinely perfect crime-thrillers that will ever grace the screen. Ever. Also, a unique film in the ’90s with a heavily feminine perspective under the nasty bits of serial killer horror out of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter.
In the meantime, check out my review here, as well as a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry.

Se7en (1995)se7enYou’d be hard pressed to find another serial killer flick as horrific as David Fincher’s Se7en. The dark, moody cinematography. A brutal screenplay from Andrew Kevin Walker. One surprising killer reveal, as well as two fabulous performances out of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. There’s a sick thrill of watching this movie, each time I see it. In an unnamed, rainy city, Pitt and Freeman’s two detectives are thrust into solving a series of murders which defy the imagination. I vote the ending as one of the top ten endings of any film in history.

Black Swan (2010)black-swanNatalie Portman gives a performance for the ages in this Darren Aronofsky work of magic. The film involves themes of womanhood, and the transition of a girl to a woman, sexual awakening, obsession. There are unforgettable images, such as the one above, and a lot more.
What Aronofsky does so well is get inside the mind, which he does in every one of his efforts, even Noah. He gets into the head of his characters, in the best of moments bringing the audience right inside with them. Black Swan is beautiful, terrifying, exasperating. It is many, many things, all of them of the highest excellence. Mix ballet, body horror, psychological horror, you’ve got a fraction of what this movie offers.

Taxi Driver (1976)taxi-driverI mean, what else can I say? Scorsese, baby.
My full review. Here’s a piece I wrote for Film Inquiry comparing Taxi Driver‘s depiction of PTSD and that of Alice Winocour’s Disorder. Tuck in!

Mystic River (2003)mystic-riverClint Eastwood has shit political opinions. His movies? Aside from that Chris Kyle masturbatory fantasy, they’re incredible. He’s a solid director. Mystic River, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, is a subtly soul crushing drama and mystery. The story concerns a group of kids, one of whom was abducted at a young age by predators, who become adults and find their lives intersecting all over again.
This is like a Greek tragedy set in contemporary Boston. If you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour. The trio of performances at the centre – Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon – all deserve the credit they’ve received, and more. So do the smaller performances from Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Chapmna, and Laurence Fishburne. Just a powerfully directed and acted movie, one I can watch a couple times a month and it never tires, every bit as potent as the first time I saw it.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)eyes-wide-shutNot everybody was sold on the final film of master auteur Stanley Kubrick. For me, it reached a strange place inside, one that partly touches on the emotion of love and also on the shadows of the dark nature within human beings. There’s all the recognisable traits of a Kubrick flick – massive tracking shots, visual symmetry, a proper use of fitting music. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise do well as the couple whose marital issues set off the plot’s events, proving they’ve each got the acting chops to carry such material. You may not get it right away, but trust me: there is a concrete plot, the story flows like a curious dream. Don’t get lost and you’ll figure it out. It’s not as elusive as some make it seem.

Amadeus (1984)amadeusMilos Forman has done great things. None better than Amadeus. Based on Peter Shaffer’s original stage play, this story about Mozart and supposed secret rival Antonio Salieri is riveting in its scope. You can never take your eyes off the screen. Even if manage to, the music will sweep you back. Tom Hulce does well bringing Mozart to the screen, as does F. Murray Abraham with his depiction of Salieri. If you don’t like classical music, this may not be your thing. Yet I feel there’s something universal in this story that’s capable of touching anybody. Give it a shot. If anything, the look and sounds and the production, it’s all enough to keep anybody interested.

The Game (1997)the-gameThis is my vote for Fincher’s best. It’ll drop you down the rabbit hole, pull you out again. Then toss you back down for another ride. Michael Douglas carries this with ease in a fantastic role, as a man who has everything is given a strange birthday present by his wayward brother (a solid Sean Penn performance) – an immersive experience, a game. Except you don’t ever know when it’s started, really. It begins out of nowhere. And Fincher will fuck your brain, too. Hard.

Terminator (1984)terminatorArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are perfection here, as is Michael Biehn. This is one of those action classics that’s nowhere near overrated, and its many legions of fans, including myself, have made sure it won’t ever be underappreciated.
Terminator is such an exciting piece of sci-fi and action put together. Hamilton is so good, she’s really one of the anchors of it all, even if Arnold and Biehn are rushing around beside her. The effects, the writing, and every aspect puts other films of its kind to shame. Every time I put this on I almost forget how damn fine of a film James Cameron and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd gave us.
We’re not worthy!

Batman (1989)batmanBest Batman. Period.

Magnolia (1999)magnoliaPaul Thomas Anderson is one of his generation’s greats. He is fantastic. Again in Magnolia he channels the spirit of his mentor Robert Altman, weaving together a bunch of characters from all walks of life into a serendipitous, epic-feeling story crossing the San Fernando Valley.
The performances are the best part. Then there’s the editing and Anderson’s wonderfully exhilarating style that keeps ever segment of the film fresh. Drop in a strange though fitting musical moment, a sky of falling frogs, you’ve got yourself a gem from the tail end of the ’90s.

 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)close-encounters-of-the-third-kindI saw other Spielberg movies before seeing this one. Most of his work is just magical stuff. This is my favourite of his, simply because of my interest in life outside of Earth, the possibilities of what’s out there in the rest of the universe, et cetera. There’s a palpable feel of reality mixed into the science fiction, and there’s a humanist message to this idea of aliens coming to our planet, our connection with them. Many things about Close Encounters of the Third Kind to love, dearly.

U Turn (1997)u-turnI’m a huge fan of Oliver Stone. U Turn is weird, surreal, a different type of flick for him to handle. Stone churns out this weird bit of Americana with the help of a great screenplay by John Ridley, based on his own book. Along with a cast of colourful characters. Penn gives a paranoid performance to make his character feel as desperate as the situation into which he tumbles out in a desolate desert in a forgotten corner of the country.

Jackie Brown (1997)jackie-brownNot a typical pick for Tarantino’s best, this Elmore Leonard adaptation (from his novel Rum Punch) contains some of my favourite characters he’s brought to screen, namely Jackie herself (Pam Grier), Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). But everyone’s good.
The dialogue’s slick, the comedy is both outright hilarious and darkly comedic. A dash or two of violence. Most of all I love the twisting, turning plot that gets better and better right to the finish.

The Blair Witch Project (1999)the-blair-witch-projectIf you want my full opinion, click here.
This is a horror I’ll never forget. I got it on VHS soon as it was released, then watched it to death. Still scares the life out of me; the end does my head in bad.

Vertigo (1958)vertigoHitchcock was a master. Vertigo captures a strange mood and the atmosphere throughout is one of unease, as we navigate a retired detective’s newfound obsession with a woman he’s meant to watch, keeping an eye on her for the fearful husband believing his wife is maybe suicidal. What follows is another trip into the rabbit hole, like many of my favourite psychological thrillers. Not only is the story and its plot enough to grab you, Hitchcock provides a handful of visuals that are forever iconic, such as that monumental shot of the spiralling staircase; just one of a few.

Brazil (1985)brazilPythonite Terry Gilliam made a cracking dsytopian picture with Brazil – a movie I remember seeing late in the afternoon one day as a teenager, on Showcase here in Canada. I only caught the last half hour or so, which is strange enough, let alone when you have no context.
Years later I tracked it down from vague memories of strange Asian-faced masks, a coffin, a vast and dilapidated building with a stage at the center where a man is held in a modified dentist’s chair. I scooped up the Criterion Collection DVD, coming with its several alternate cuts and a backload of exciting features, commentary, so on.
This is a dark and brutally satirical look at a future in which bureaucracy has buried us all.
Here’s my review.

Menace II Society (1993)menace-ii-societyA terrifying look at the lives of young men growing up in the Watts projects, suffocated by their desire to be something and their lack of resources (not their capabilities). Caine (Tyrin Turner) and O-Dog (Larenz Tate) are two guys that get hauled into the drugs lifestyle, the type of living where every corner is a possible death sentence, and the next bullet is only a block away.
What fascinated me most is to see the lives of these men depicted in such a way that’s realistic, honest. Although it’s rough and disturbing more often than that, Menace II Society shows us the bittersweet side of Caine’s experience when he finally tries getting away from the gangs, the drugs, hoping to start a new life.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissouLots of good Wes Anderson movies, I pretty much enjoy his whole body of work.
But a special quality of comedy exists in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Every bit of Anderson’s stuff is quirky, with its own unique flare. This film has so much to offer. A central, hilarious Bill Murray performance, amongst a cast of equally funny characters played by a group of stellar actors from Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston to Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe, to name but a few.
Check this out, don’t read about it. Let its strangeness and its dry humour surprise you as Anderson takes you through another one of his microcosms of odd lives.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)THIS IS SPINAL TAPThe team of Rob Reiner as director, plus Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer is comedic gold standard. There are too many funny lines to even begin to mention.
Probably my personal choice for funniest scene is when Nigel (Guest) is taking about the sustain and he goes on and on about how good it is, just absolutely slays me.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)leaving-las-vegasSay whatever you will about Nicolas Cage, he gave a huge performance for Mike Figgis in this film. It’s a horribly depressing piece of work, yet there’s something liberating in it; definitely part of that is Cage’s unleashed spirit. He and Elisabeth Shue are good together. Head into this one with an open mind. Sure, it’s grim, but not every inch of it’s so dark. There is a gorgeous human heart driving Leaving Las Vegas.

Hellraiser (1987)hellraiserI’ve always read lots of Clive Barker, ever since I was a kid and mom let me read him + Stephen King. There are many great Barker short stories, novels, et cetera. Hellraiser is based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart, and he brings every last ounce of terror that his regular writing usually holds.
There are many things at play in this horror film, it isn’t only an excuse to show off blood and gore and depravity. No, it’s about the nature of sin, what it might mean in its true context. Regardless of anything else, Barker makes all that brutal horror exciting, weaving a mythology involving the dreaded Cenobites into 90-odd minutes of pure fear.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)cool-hand-lukeWhat we have here is a failure to communicate
Where does the human spirit lie? Where does freedom come from, and can it exist under any conditions? Paul Newman’s Luke takes authority to the limit in this undisputed classic, directed with grace by Stuart Rosenberg (BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village). There’s heaps of iconic material in this single film. If you’ve not yet had the pleasure, snatch up a copy of this prison film that’ll leave you smiling at the spirit of a rebel like ole Luke.

Network (1976)networkChayefsky’s prescient screenplay for Network might be the best in film history, in my humble opinion. Because even in ’76, when media was already working its claws into the American psyche and not in the right way, he knew as a writer what was happening, and that it would only get worse.
One scene later in the film featuring Ned Beatty – an extremely brief role which netted him a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination – sort of jabs at both sides, not only the one Chayefsky rails against most of the film. You’ll know what I mean when you see it (or remember it if you already have). Peter Finch won the first posthumous acting award at the Oscars for his role; so it should’ve been. He lights your mind on fire as the prophetic suicide case who transforms from a man at the end of his wits into a TV prophet on during prime time. And you can’t forget the subplot involving Faye Dunaway’s character venturing into business with rebel groups, exploiting their causes purely for ratings without care for them or what their causes end up becoming in the end.
So much going on that it’s amazing how coherent the entire thing plays. A pure classic in every sense of the word. Amazing filmmaking, Sidney Lumet in his finest hour.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)who-framed-roger-rabbitMy full review of this fun and thematic film can be found here.
Always one of the best. Better than it’s ever gotten credit for being, more heart and innovation than ten movies combined.

Manhunter (1986)manhunterThe visionary aesthetics of Mann, the acting power of William Petersen and Tom Noonan and Brian Cox and Joan Allen, the eeriness of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon.
What else is there to want, to need? Mann does great work with this adaptation. Not my favourite of the Harris adaptations, though close. Certainly at the top of my list of Mann’s best. The fever dream qualities of certain sequences, the neon and the shadows. This is just plain wonderful ’80s cinema.
All my Thomas Harris-related stuff is located here.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)the-texas-chain-saw-massacreTobe Hooper will, for eternity, be a scary fucking dude.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, while having a title that isn’t spelled correctly, is the scariest thing I’ve ever witnessed. To this day, that’s not changed. I saw this for the first time about 18 years ago, as of this writing. I’ve seen tons and tons and tons of horror since, yet nothing will top Hooper’s nightmarish backcountry tale.
The first appearance of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) is a shock. Once the family takes Sally (Marilyn Burns) inside their decrepit backwoods, two-story house, the shock keeps working you over until a numbness creeps in. Never does the terror stop. And when it’s all over, like the sole remaining character of the massacre, you might even want to laugh the fear away, too.

Blue Ruin (2013)blue-ruinEver wanted to see a revenge movie starring a character who’s not well acquainted with guns, or violence, or revenge?
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a story of vengeance at all costs. We don’t see the Hollywood version of a revenge thriller. Rather, Saulnier offers an alternative look at a situation we’ve seen time and time again. Like his latest film Green Room, Saulnier uses Blue Ruin to create a heavy load of tension, letting it unravel in a messy, savage way that’s as unexpected as it is satisfying.

The Piano Teacher (2001)the-piano-teacherNever satisfied unless the material he works with is challenging, Haneke takes his reluctant though willing viewer into the hidden masochistic proclivities of a piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who lives a lonely life with her mother at home.
There’s no way to describe what happens in the film without ruining the plot. You may want to turn it off halfway through. If so, fight that instinct. Hupper is always a talent to watch, here she unleashes herself in an emotional tour-de-force that’ll leave your head spinning. When you get to the end there may also be a feeling of the film having really gone nowhere. Yet if you know Haneke, this is simply not the case. So dig in deep, listen, watch closely. There isn’t a big twist or reveal or hidden meaning here like some of Haneke’s work. There’s a penetrating character study of a woman on the fringe, yet one who seems to sit in the middle of normality; often the case with those who hold sexual impulses below the surface. And sometimes those things bubble up from under the surface in threatening ways.

Life of Brian (1979)monty-pythons-life-of-brianFor a review, jump over here.
Python are the perfect group of comedians to take on a searing religious satire. They not only make you laugh, they make fucking excellent points.

The Devil’s Rejects (2005)the-devils-rejectsZombie’s latest, 31, is pure brutality, and I dig that. The Devil’s Rejects is both brutal and full of interesting characters; the latter is something his newest movie lacks at certain points.
What I love here is that House of 1,000 Corpses is continued on in a more gritty, even more realistic sense.
We see the Firefly family move out into the world after their ranch is raided. Now, Baby, Otis, and their father Captain Spaulding go on the road trying to evade the authorities. In their wake they leave depraved murder and mayhem, every step of the way.

Mommy (2014)mommyXavier Dolan is a talented young man, younger than myself and he has a string of quality cinema under his belt already. Mommy is another riveting, emotional piece of work, examining a mother-son relationship plagued with issues.
Best of all, Dolan’s empathetic storytelling combines with his use of a 1:1 aspect ratio, very rare particularly for a feature film – these elements make the movie a unique experience, as the ratio forces us into closer quarters with the characters, always feeling directly in their face even without a close-up shot. I continually love Dolan’s films and this one is his best yet.

This is England (2006)this-is-englandI always said it’s a god damn shame the shitty white nationalists appropriated the skinhead subculture for its own use, making skinheads forever, sadly, synonymous with the idea of neo-Nazis and other white hate groups.
This is England is a study of socioeconomic groups left behind, and how they then become susceptible to the influence of hatred. Stephen Graham is electrifying in his role as Combo, the fierce white nationalist who corrals a bunch of people into his dangerous ideology. He’s also a man not totally convinced in his own view of the world. When he takes a young boy under his wing, a devastating act will make him question whether or not it’s worth continuing with so much hate in his heart.
The story is actually focused mostly on the young boy, played by the charming and confident Thomas Turgoose. Yet Combo is a massive part of everything important that happens.

Little Children (2006)little-childrenHow often can we all fall in love with Kate Winslet? How many times can one develop a man crush on Patrick Wilson? Who the fuck knows.
What I do know is that Little Children, another great feat by director Todd Field, will make you feel a gamut of emotions, ranging from disgust to fear to love and everything else in between. An Atlman or Anderson-like cast of characters takes us through the walks of life of many in a small neighbourhood. Go in blind, drink in the heavy drama.
Also, Jackie Earle Haley’s greatest work. Until the end of time.

Solyaris (1972)solyarisAndrei Tarkovsky is another giant of cinema, an auteur. This is his most compelling work, for me personally. It’s the one I resonate with most. Because humanist science fiction is my favourite type of science fiction, stuff where at the heart of the story lies a veritable human element. Something that reaffirms our soul. There’s a haunting quality about Solyaris, one that isn’t easy to shake.

Memories of Murder (2003)memories-of-murderDark. Mysterious. Based on a real serial killer case. Thrilling. Even funny in specific scenes.
This Joon-ho Bong feature is one I’ll never forget, no matter how long I go between viewings. Memories of Murder is spooky in such a realistic manner, it takes you through one of the single most frustrating cases in the history of South Korea. The performances will keep you hooked, and not a single second of film is wasted. Style and substance combined.

Role Models (2008)role-modelsI’m still not totally sure what it is exactly that kills me about this comedy. Both Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott do make me laugh, same goes for Jane Lynch. Bobb’e J. Thompson, too. But there’s an inexplicable quality that I wish I knew how to articulate.
Role Models is so fun, to me, because unlike other comedies about men who are either immature or just plain terrible boyfriends, it doesn’t condescend to women. A lesser film might have a more stereotypical nagging woman in the main character’s life, which is nonsense. Here, you can wholly understand why a woman wouldn’t want Rudd’s character around. He’s a childish and unhappy man, the latter most of all. So from there, it really does become a redemption story, and the lead isn’t entirely unlikable like the same types in other similar flicks. We want to see him do better, not just for laughs but because of an emotional connect.
So I guess that’s why I love the movie. It has a genuine feeling, instead of hilarity for hilarity’s sake. That’s not always bad. Sometimes disingenuous. Role Models comes off as real, even at its most outrageous. Herein lies the fun.
I wanna rock and roll all niiight, and part of every day.”

In the Name of the Father (1993)in-the-name-of-the-fatherPerhaps because of my Irish roots I often gravitate towards dramas and thrillers in a big way when they involve the IRA and the Troubles, so on. Then again, injustice and inequality and any of these concepts are things I’m interested in.
But you put Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson, and Jim Sheridan together, a screenplay based on Gerry Conlon’s book Proved Innocent, this will compel anybody with sense to watch.
The performances, Day-Lewis above all, are so powerful that it will rock you. In terms of DDL, this is what I’d consider his second best performance – behind his best in The Boxer and just in front of what I consider his third best, Plainview in There Will Be Blood. See it, relish every moment of him and Postlethwaite as father and son. Revel in the strength of the human spirit, the bond of family, the conviction of one man to stay the course of truth at all costs.

You’re Next (2013)youre-nextI love Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett as a director-writer team. They’re interesting filmmakers together, bringing us new takes on genres with their fresh, inventive eyes. Everybody who likes slasher horror always wants something different. My feeling is, You’re Next took home invasion horror and turned the sub-genre on its head. Not that the twist isn’t foreseeable by those with the smarts. Not to say it’s the bloodiest thing you’ll ever see. Simply put, Wingard and Barrett give us good kills, dark comedy, fun characters and in particular one kick ass female lead to take us through to the vicious end.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)dead-mans-shoesThe most bleak revenge thriller ever conceived, this Shane Meadows-Paddy Considine collaboration hits all the right, if not horrifically dark notes. Without spoiling any of the plot, Dead Man’s Shoes takes you along as a man returns home from the army and plans on visiting those who’ve hurt someone close to him. After that, all bets are off. Blunt and realistic, Meadows haymakers the viewer until there’s nothing left to do but submit to the onslaught of raw, vengeful violence.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)midnight-cowboyIm walkinhere!”
Speaking of bleak, the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight before descending into Republican madness) and Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman showing early on that he’s a top notch character actor) in the big city is a heartbreaking venture. There’s a disturbing, repressed portion of Joe that lingers throughout the whole story. You can never escape it, just like Joe who runs anywhere and everywhere to try and do so. A movie so iconic that even Seinfeld parodied its final scene. While Jerry and Kramer make it funny, Joe and Ratso leave you with an empty, terrible feeling in your gut, as the ever elusive American Dream hovers just out of reach once more.

Sexy Beast (2000)sexy-beastJonathan Glazer’s 2000 crime film starring Ben Kinglsey and Ray Winstone is in a league all on its own. There are some dreamy scenes peppered in amongst the intensity of its many scenes featuring Kingsley’s gangster of savage proportions. Also featuring Ian McShane and Amanda Redman, Sexy Beast has all of the artsy qualities you might find in an indie flick, in addition to a solid story about criminals; some of whom hope for more in their lives, some of whom wallow in their bestial nature.

Vampyr (1932)vampyrCarl Th. Dreyer made several masterpieces, including The Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath. Ahead of those in my books is the fantastical, ghostly Vampyr. I love the use of light and shadow in old movies because it was less an artistic ideal, more of a way for filmmakers to show off their genius by manipulating the only elements they had at their disposal. Not to bash modern filmmakers who’ve had their choice of colour v. black-and-white for many, many years.
What Dreyer does with this classic piece of horror is create an atmospheric landscape of shadow which is like a waking nightmare. The Criterion Edition comes with the screenplay, as well as other great features. I recommend it for any film lovers, the transfer is fucking beautiful work. Makes Dreyer look even better, as all the expert directorial work he did shows up in high definition glory.
Note: I believe Criterion does good work most of all due to the fact they make old films more accessible for younger audiences, and of course the die hard film lovers. But they do a service to those who want to see these landmark films and can only come across bad copies that survived the years.

Marathon Man (1976)marathon-manJohn Schlesinger is a director whose career gave us a handful of wonderful movies. The best of those being, while in stiff competition, Marathon Man. Featuring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier, even a bit of Roy Scheider, this is an acting clinic. It’s likewise an exercise in tension. Schlesinger knows how to really take you to the limit, and the excitement never actually lets up. To say much of the plot is to spoil your fun. Although it’s worth noting this has stolen diamonds, an ex-Nazi, a government agent gone rogue, Hoffman being a charming bastard, in combination with directing, editing, and writing of the highest calibre.

Synecdoche, New York (2008)synecdoche-new-yorkI can’t begin to explain anything about this movie for you. To see is to understand, even then you might not. Took me a couple viewings before I knew I really enjoyed the film, then a few more until I feel like I understood what director-writer Charlie Kaufman was aiming towards. Centred on a theatre director struggling with work, Philip Seymour Hoffman (rest his beautiful soul) gives one of his best performances as Kaufman weaves another strange world around him. Existential questions everywhere, the movie deals in themes of art v. life, the weight of loss, on top of many further ideas. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. A visual stunning and emotionally gripping bit of drama, garnished with dark comedy.

Silver Tongues (2011)silver-tonguesA pair of lovers escalate a series of thrill seeking games to a dangerous point. Beyond that description, my lips are sealed.
Find this film. Watch. Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham show up for life altering performances. A relatively unknown drama, this one caught me off guard. The chemistry between the two leads is unreal, to the point you’ll want more after the credits roll. As far as finales go, Silver Tongues left me in a state of euphoria and simultaneously I felt walloped by the heaviness of what I’d just witnessed. You won’t see this one coming, neither first nor last.

Soft for Digging (2001)soft-for-diggingJ.T. Petty has since gone on to other things, bigger films. It’s his 2001 feature Soft for Digging which will never stray far from my darkest thoughts. A simple plot of a man looking for his cat in the woods and witnessing a murder spirals into something out of this world. The story is unique, which I love. The visuals of Petty’s spooky little plot are imprinted on my brain. Regardless of how you feel about the screenplay, those images are likely to burrow deep and settle in your unconscious, waiting to pop up again one day when you least expect. It stays with you, like the main character’s own experience.

Clean, Shaven (1993)clean-shavenDepictions of mental illness are almost always flawed. I can’t say the same for those in the films of Lodge H. Kerrigan. This is a disturbing, genuine, deep look at a young man with schizophrenia, whose struggle to get his daughter back from the family by whom she was adopted is tough to endure.
Kerrigan never condescends, he never tries to make his main character look bad. He simply shows the depths of the mental affliction through which he suffers. Peter Greene cements himself as a great actor, despite his many roles he never got as big as he should have; as evidenced by his career making performance in Clean, Shaven. If it weren’t for him, and Kerrigan’s tact, this might feel like an exploitative story. It isn’t, not even close. You’ll feel how real it gets almost immediately.

A Horrible Way to Die (2010)a-horrible-way-to-dieI love some films people actively hate. One of which is the Wingard-Barrett serial killer flick, A Horrible Way to Die. A frequent collaborator actor A.J. Bowen stars as the madman, and multi-talented Amy Seimetz as his ex-wife trying to move on after he’s put in prison.
This might feel like a typical movie, or just another slice and dice effort. The handheld camerawork, the inventive story with its jaw dropping twist, the chilling ease with which Bowen’s killer moves through the world; these are bits of the film’s greatness. Lots will talk shit about this one. That’s fine. Doesn’t change its ass kicking qualities. A slow burning, violent, human piece of serial killer horror.

Down to the Bone (2004)down-to-the-boneYou must see this Vera Farmiga-led, Debra Granki-directed story of a woman on the edge. I don’t want to reveal any more. This is a tale of woe, though one not totally devoid of hope. Farmiga shines in a role that isn’t easy, not because it’s so tough but because it’s a character we’ve seen so many times before. She brings out the best of the screenplay, allowing us a window into a woman juggling the weight of life all on her shoulders, trying to get by and barely able. Testament to the power of humans, both to overcome and to bury themselves in pain.

Race with the Devil (1975)race-with-the-devilSatanists. An RV attacked by a cult. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. Guns.
Need more? If so, you need to look elsewhere. Race with the Devil is a thrilling slice of action mixed with horror. Enjoy!

A Bay of Blood (1971)a-bay-of-bloodMario Bava, one of the masters of gorgeously disturbing horror. This 1971 mystery is the precursor to slashers like Friday the 13th and its sequels, as well as other movies of its type. The plot concerns an heiress killed by her husband, devolving into a murderous rampage as people try to get their hands on the inheritance left behind for themselves. A shocking, nasty, glorious horror classic that won’t soon lose its impact, if ever.

The Selfish Giant (2013)the-selfish-giantInspired by the Oscar Wilde story of the same name, The Selfish Giant is a look at two boys who want to make money in their rural, working class little town, so they get involved with a criminal and local scrap dealer.
I don’t want to spoil the plot. This is directed with amazing depth, and the tragedy which eventually boils over feels like something you’d easily see in a small place. Also, you’ll revel in the performances of the young kids, as they prove you don’t have to be an adult or even a young adult to wow with a soul baring human performance.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)big-bad-wolvesTo the last minute, you’ll stay wondering: is this man evil?
That is all. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Revenge has never been so intriguing or darkly funny as in this gem out of Israel, another Tarantino recommendation I’m glad I took seriously.

Angst (1983)angstThis 1983 shocker, based on real life killer Werner Kniesek, is viscerally powerful, if not one of the most disturbing horror movies ever made. Hands down. Inside the gore and the depraved murder are impressive use of film techniques, inventive camerawork (from Academy Award winner Zbigniew Rybczyński). You literally go inside the headspace of the horrific bastard you follow through a couple days of carnage.
Want more? An in-depth review with spoilers, here for your (dis)pleasure.

Rolling Thunder (1977)rolling-thunderI’d see anything if Paul Schrader’s name is on it. Considering his recent Dog Eat Dog and his atrocious Bret Easton Ellis-penned The Canyons, sometimes it’s not great. Despite a couple misfires there’s a compelling aspect to Schrader, he always gets to the dark side of humanity.
1977’s Rolling Thunder was written by Schrader, directed by John Flynn (The OutfitBrainscan), starring a slick William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first few film roles. A unique war story come home, as Devane’s Major Charles Rane and his family are assaulted, robbed one evening. Afterwards his wife and son are dead. His hand mangled after being stuffed into the garbage disposal. Major Rane recruits his army buddy Johnny Vohden (Jones), and they head off to find some vengeance.
A nasty, brutish piece of exploitation cinema that’s not simply a bunch of violence, it has plenty to say.

Cure (1997)cureUnrelated to the other fascinating director of the same name, Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a special talent. One of his more recent films, Creepy, was solid. His 2001 horror-science fiction hybrid Kairo eventually got an American remake when the trend got big (original is definitely better). Point being, Kurosawa has several great movies.
Cure has haunted me for years. I saw it in 2003 while at film school. Ever since I’ve had several scenes stuck in my mind, little bits of the dialogue. This is a favourite of mine, yes, but I’d consider it objectively one of the best films of any I’ve seen. The pacing, the suspense, its unnerving story about a series of murders – Xs carved into the victims’ skin, though the killer different every time; there’s nothing about this film that disappoints. The way Kurosawa lets us see everything, watching from a distance as the events unfold, is fascinating to me.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)the-killing-of-a-chinese-bookieThere’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that John Cassavetes shaped independent film. He was keen at finding the humanity in every situation, not just the grandiose, Hollywood-type stuff that gets pumped out of studios constantly (not saying all that’s bad, at all). He looked into the everyday lives of men and women, as if they were people he knew personally.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie means a lot of things. To Cassavetes it was an allegory for his own struggle as an artist. To me, it’s a thrilling, artistic bit of crime cinema about a man caught between a rock and a hard place.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)lets-scare-jessica-to-deathI say it so much, this time I’m sticking right to it: not ruining anything.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is a haunting movie in the eeriest sense of the word. A slow burning bit of Gothic horror for which I am extremely grateful.

Affliction (1997)afflictionSchrader’s back! Writing and directing, as he should.
His screenplay is based on a Russell Banks novel, also the author of The Sweet Hereafter (an amazing film). Affliction is some of the best from the ’90s. It’s a gritty rural story of a sheriff in New Hampshire whose demons haunt him, just as his abusive father does in his still living never ending rage. One thing piles on top of another, and another, and another, until the poor sheriff is left with not many options left except either go insane or keep going against the grain.

Black Sunday (1960)black-sundayIf you need Gothic horror, or maybe you just want to see one of the best horror films ever made, Mario Bava has you covered. Black Sunday plays like a story off the page, something you’d find in a dusty old tome at the library, in the creepy part.
See it. I won’t say a word. Bava’s film is perfect.

Rome, Open City (1945)Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, Italy 1945, 100 mins)There’s a special quality to this Roberto Rossellini film. Filmed in a still beaten up Rome, a year after Allies ran the Nazis out, Rossellini used this to make one of the early and greatest examples of neorealist cinema.
Rome, Open City isn’t what you’d expect, or maybe it is at times. This is another film ending that won’t ever be forgotten. The neorealism focusing on the fear of the Roman people is compounded by the final moments. A powerful movie.

The Swimmer (1968)the-swimmerFrank Perry’s adaptation of the short story by John Cheever, starring Burt Lancaster (my favourite of his performances) as Ned Merrill is a classic American film. On the surface, you’d think there’s no way to turn a story this short, though a great one at that, into 95 minute film. But the symbolism of Cheever turns into a surreal journey for Ned in the medium of film. What was already a spectacular story transforms into a cinematic tale of decadence and decay in the upper classes of American society.
I did an extensive piece on the film for Film Inquiry here.

13 Tzameti (2005)13-tzametiBeneath the threatening exterior of 13 Tzameti is a parable, about how the lower class and immigrants and those less fortunate are pushed to insane extremes in order to survive, how the promise of a fortune at any costs can lure vulnerable people into horrible situations. Or, is it just a story about a depraved game promising a huge payout?
You decide. Let me know.

Noroi: The Curse (2005)noroi-the-curseThis has my vote for best found footage horror. Scares the life out of me, every damn time.
Crossing together the lives of several people, each haunted in their own way by a malevolent spirit, a documentary filmmaker tracks down a woman supposedly cursed by a Japanese demon. And what he finds is far more horrific than anything he anticipated.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)bad-day-at-black-rockJohn Sturges’ 1955 crime-mystery was important upon release, important again in today’s political landscape 2017 and beyond. A man with one hand arrives in Black Rock, immediately getting the cold shoulder from the various locals, all of whom have something to hide. When the one-handed man makes clear he’s looking for a friend, a Japanese-American farmer, the locals are even more intent on icing him out. Whether with words or by force. This movie’s honestly perfect, and Spencer Tracy in the lead role (supported by the likes of Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine) gives us a classic tough guy American performance.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)assault-on-precinct-13At first, John Carpenter’s lean action-crime-thriller combo feels like it has a tenuous plot that could fall apart. But then the master director-writer drenches the film in tension, making each character’s move possibly their last. Even better this feels like an old school Western, something which Carpenter intended, as his big inspiration was 1959’s Rio Bravo. The score, the cinematography and Carpenter’s direction, the stellar cast, they’ll impress you.

In a Better World (2010)in-a-better-worldSusanne Bier’s In a Better World stunned me the first time. The story deals with forgiveness, revenge, different worlds colliding. Its themes are powerful. Through a series of events the lives of two Danish families intertwine, and within the bonds of a new friendship forms the spectre of danger and violence.
Don’t read too much about this one. A small description like this is best. Go into it head on and experience this drama for its raw force.

Happiness (1998)happinessDon’t get it twisted – Todd Solondz isn’t out to make anybody happy with this one, despite its title. More so he uses the title as a way to indicate the deeply meaningless existential search for some elusive quality called happiness. Because most of these characters, almost every one of them, isn’t looking for it in the right places.
Happiness will disturb you. If not, you’ve probably got a head in your basement. And there’s no actual horror in this one. All drama; an intense, vexing, even sinister bunch of shit. The men portrayed by Dylan Baker and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two of the top ten worst people of all time in film. They’re rotten to the core, though in the way they could be living right next door in the next house, the next apartment, wherever. That’s one of the really disturbing bits to me. The normality Solondz injects into the depraved actions of his cast of characters.

The Fog (1980)the-fogAnother Carpenter flick I absolutely love. An American ghost story, if there ever were one to love!
The writing is so stellar, with Carpenter and Debra Hill conjuring up a neat little story that you could tell around the fire; ironic, considering the opening moments. Plus you’ve got Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh… what more could you ever dream of? I really can’t spoil even a drop of the story. My favourite thing is that it’s absolute American Gothic. If Carpenter and Hill put this in a book only as a novel, I think I’d still dig it as much as I do on film. One of those stories that reminds you of great, creepy literature.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)the-sword-in-the-stoneI do love animated films, they’re just not my favourite type to watch. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some I don’t absolutely die for, such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. I always loved it, but then I came to enjoy it more while doing my degree. I took two courses required for my Honours that were in Old English and Middle English. In both of them were a lot of works inspired by Arthurian legend. So after that my respect and admiration for this Disney flick grew, intensely. Not that it’s filled with all these academic references, that’d be stupid. After reading about Arthur so much, this movie hits the spot with a combination of what I’ve read recently and enjoyed, and the bits of why I loved it as a kid.
From Merlin to Archimedes, to the wild Madam Mim sequence, there’s something to remember out of every scene. I couldn’t even begin to choose a favourite moment.

Once Were Warriors (1994)once-were-warriorsAlan Duff’s novel of the same name dealt with domestic violence in New Zealand. His characters are a Māori family plagued by issues of alcoholism and poverty, leading to the violence.
Part of why I’m drawn to this movie is because I live in Newfoundland, a small island on the far East Coast of Canada. I live in city, though come from a smaller town where it was a mix of urban and rural. Though the family are Māori and they have their own particular complexities, their struggle reminds me of people I’ve known, families I grew up with and near. So despite its regional feel, compounded by Duff’s original material exploring issues specific to New Zealand, there’s also a universality in the story with which many can identify. A heartbreaking, tragic. But there’s a little hope, just a glimmer.

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)mr-sardonicusHuman greed is a theme explored in literature since time immemorial. William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus uses greed as a vessel for this modern Gothic horror. The whole thing is macabre. Darkly thrilling. Original Ray Russell story “Sardonicus” was published in Playboy Magazine, then Castle snatched up the rights and had Russell do the screenplay, which is part of what makes the story so damn fine. A favourite horror I watch near Halloween. You should, too!

The White Sound (2001)the-white-soundNot many movies express the true feeling of taking drugs, nor do many get depictions of mental illness correct. Daniel Brühl stars in Hans Weingartner’s The White Sound as a young man named Lukas who takes a horrible trip on magic mushrooms. So intense that perhaps Lukas might never make it back from where he’s headed.
Paranoid schizophrenia is often depicted in violent ways, both through film and other media like certain biased news channels who aren’t sensitive to the mentally ill, and so on. What Weingartner does is produce an experience which takes us into the head of a man suffering from the inability of his brain to filter the world, precipitated by the mushroom high. A scary little film.

Vengeance is Mine (1979)vengeance-is-mineThis is a cold, sterile look at the crimes of Akira Nishiguchi (renamed for the film). The events of the film come to us through flashbacks, as we piece together the life of this man who is now in police custody. Even a dose of dark humour along the way. I can’t say much more, you need to get hold of the Criterion Edition. Perfection, all the way. What’s most interesting, above the style and feel of the film, is the dissection of this serial killing thief and his motivations, or lack thereof. A terrifying and provocative story.

Casino (1995)casinoI love just about every Scorsese film. He’s a master at work every time he works his magic.
Casino‘s my personal favourite. I know I’m in the minority, most likely. But can you deny the lure? We begin in media res with a shocking act of sabotage and violence, then we work back through the story as Scorsese takes us into the rise of Las Vegas with De Niro playing Ace Rothstein, based on Frank Rosenthal. There’s intrigue, betrayal, murder, brutality. There’s Joe Pesci stabbing a guy in his neck with a pen. There’s Joe Pesci squashing a guy’s head in a vice. Don’t understand how anybody couldn’t love this Vegas gangster picture. A crime classic.

The Breakfast Club (1985)the-breakfast-clubReleased the year I was born, this is such a great John Hughes movie. Resonates with me, and y’know, half of the world, because it’s the ultimate anthem for losers and at the same time for those in the popular crowd who never actually like they belonged.
Whenever the last scene plays I feel my heart start skipping beats. Always emotional when I watch, maybe more so as I get older. There’s a little bit of Judd Nelson and Molly Ringwald in all of us.

Boogie Nights (1997)boogie-nightsThe opening sequence of PTA’s Boogie Nights is proof positive he’s the cinematic son of Altman. From there, we dive into a sordid tale out of the L.A. porn scene in the ’70s and ’80s. Starring a prosthetic-cocked Mark Wahlberg and a maybe never better Burt Reynolds, a knockout Julianne Moore performance to boot – and a host of awesome supporting roles from Don Cheadle and William H. Macy and more – this is just a mesmerising drama. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be grossed out. Just as I’d imagine many did during these days in the porn industry.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)brokeback-mountainI can’t speak for how the gay community feels about this film. For me as a straight man, Brokeback Mountain changed my perspective, even as someone who’s always accepted gay men and never had a problem (because why would I?). But I remember loving this movie, seeing it in theatre, then buying it immediately on DVD. Friends – men, insecure with their own sexuality no doubt – made fun of me when they’d see it in my collection. A few woman, too. They’d ask “Why do you own this?” and I’d reply: “It’s a great fucking movie.”
Ang Lee is excellent. What he does with this beautiful yet bittersweet love story is so wonderful, and devastating, as well. There’s nothing else to say. Ledger and Gyllenhaal are both tremendous, as are Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in their roles. Powerful and timeless cinema.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)the-neverending-storyThis is like a dream that never fades. Wolfgang Petersen has done such great stuff, especially his powerhouse Das Boot. For me, The NeverEnding Story makes me feel the feelings I did during childhood, the sort you can only vaguely remember. The way you felt before responsibilities and the state of the world bore down on your psyche, when all you had to worry about was a bit of school and your imagination. Alongside little Bastian Balthazar Bux, avid reader, we engage in a tale that’s prophetic in way, but one that mostly whisks you into fantasy where you can take control, like Bastian, and help change the world.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)dr-strangeloveBlacker than burned toast. The only description fitting for this dark political satire.
With characters named President of the United States Merkin Muffley, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, General Buck Turgidson, Colonel Bat Guano, Lt. Lothar Zogg, it’s hard not to see the utter hilariousness. At the very same time it’s about the possibility of all-out, accidental, nuclear war between America and Russia. Perfect Cold War comedy.
If you’ve never seen this Kubrick gem, get to work. The funniest film ever made.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)the-wizard-of-ozFeel the excitement and enjoy!
Great songs, even better performances. The whole production is pure magic.

Philadelphia (1993)philadelphiaGetting his break like many others in the industry from Roger Corman, Jonathan Demme made several masterpieces. One of which is Philadelphia, telling an important story about HIV/AIDS and the discrimination against gay men with the disease which persisted for so long, no doubt still does in many circles sadly.
Tom Hanks does perfect work, but don’t forget Denzel Washington – he plays an equally tough role that cannot be discounted. They’re magnificent, each presenting some of the many issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in the everyday lives of regular people.

Natural Born Killers (1994)natural-born-killersLong live Mickey and Mallory! Two depraved and motivated serial killers, each with their own troubles. Oliver Stone made such a damning comment about the state of media and celebrity in age where true crime was (and still is today, more so) exploited by any outlet with a voice, big or small. What we get is a vicious, macabre tale of Mickey and Mallory tearing through America down the highway, stopping here and there to kill, eat, fuck. Along for the ride later is a sleazy TV host willing to do anything to get a good story. Little does he know where that will lead him this time.
This is one wild ride. So get ready.

Being John Malkovich (1999)being-john-malkovichAnother film exploring the concept of celebrity, as well as our worship of those who attain such status, is the Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman collaboration Being John Malkovich. This is up there with the best, most innovative films in history. Such a strange movie in many ways and at the same time it is pure genius. Catherine Keener gives a fantastic performance, as do the others, but she’s just a real hit. And the sequence where Malkovich goes inside his own head is a psyche out, entirely surreal, such an accomplished bit of filmmaking. The whole thing is like having your favourite meal, it hits the spot every time.

Pinocchio (1940)pinocchioThe second animated feature film by Disney after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A whopping bit of animation, too. Gorgeous drawing. Story comes from an Italian children’s book. Groundbreaking movie all around, most of all in terms of the artistry. Light and shadow here is used as well as a live action bit of cinema.
One section stuck with me from when I was a kid – Pleasure Island. It frightened the shit out of me. Today when I watch it’s still an unsettling portion to an animated adventure. Poor Pinocchio. Just wants to be real, man.

North by Northwest (1959)north-by-northwestOpening titles may never be topped, credits to Saul Bass. Bernard Herrmann gives us a load of wonderful compositions to make up a classic score. And of course, master of the thriller Alfred Hitchcock takes us for a loop. There are too many scenes that WOW to get anything done here, so maybe if you want share your own with me in the comments!
Is this Hitchcock’s most exciting film? Is it his best? Which scene gets your adrenaline flowing?

Sling Blade (1996)sling-bladeWritten and directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton, a movie that makes me weep. Also, a rural drama that’s actually got one of the most villainous characters ever in its workings, a.k.a Dwight Yoakam. There’s a lot to love about this little story. John Ritter plays an atypical Southern man to great effect. Natalie Canerday gives a great performance as a woman in the best situation she can muster, and you can’t ever forget young Lucas Black as the kid befriend by Thornton’s Karl Childers.
You’ll be hard pressed to get better drama in the ’90s, a feat by Thornton to do such good work from the page to the screen and behind the camera.

Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)boratThe genius of Sacha Baron Cohen lies in the way he exposes the bias and ignorance (and racism in this case) of others is by satirising, but in the way he looks to others as if he’s borderline being offensive. When his dressing up and acting as Borat Sagdiyev is actually a mask in order to get under the skin of others, helping to bring out their inner feelings about foreigners and foreign ideals. And like many of the greatest, Cohen borders on nastiness, outright riotous jokes, and gallows humour.
Not sure if anything’s funnier than Borat doing Driver’s Ed. Too, too ridiculous and perfect.

Battle Royale (2000)battle-royaleThis film has more guts than 20 other horror-thrillers combined.
When Japan becomes a nightmare, the youth overrunning the adults with chaos and disorder, the government implements the BR Program, where students from school are taken to an island then left to fight to the death. The last remaining young person is then reintegrated into society. Hugely controversial because of its sensitive subject matter. I’d imagine in America it was a bit sensitive, too; only a year after the Columbine High School massacre. But this is a dystopian vision of the near future, when class isn’t a big issue anymore, only age. It’s a unique vision based on the 1999 novel of the same name. If you’ve not seen it, snatch up a copy. This is exciting, nasty, brutal. Everything a horror fan wants.

Elena (2011)elenaI love films which explore socioeconomic situations, whether in my own country (Canada) or abroad. This 2011 Russian drama Elena follows the titular lead character as she navigates her own personal Hell. Elena, a woman from a working class background, marries a man she met while working as a nurse in a hospital, Vladimir; he is a rich businessman. Problems surface when Elena wants to help her son from a previous marriage to put his boy through school, so that he doesn’t have to go into the military. But Vladimir will not loosen the purse strings, neither for Elena’s family nor her even after he passes.
This story opens up issues about modern Russia, as well as its treatment of women.

Mother of George (2013)mother-of-georgeWe can’t just have diversity in casting, behind the camera, et cetera. What we need is diversity in stories. That conversation needs to be made even bigger, evidently.
Mother of George blew me away because it takes the audience inside the lives of Nigerian-Americans in Brooklyn. We’re brought into their cultures, traditions, the way they live with their families. And out of that comes a cultural problem many of us white people might not understand, or have ever known about. I won’t spoil a second, it’s worth going in knowing only the basics.

Lost Highway (1997)lost-highwayMany David Lynch films entice me. All of them, really. None of them so penetrating and scary as this headtrip. What starts as something like a paranoid thriller crossed with a story of mad jealousy eventually morphs into a psychotic journey across space and time. Is the man who goes to jail and wakes up another person still the same man? Or is it all a way of dissociating from reality? Or is it something more sinister?

Trouble Every Day (2001)trouble-every-dayClaire Denis. Vincent Gallo. Béatrice Dalle.
Tindersticks.
Love. Horror. Sexual cannibalism.

Van Diemen’s Land (2009)van-diemens-landStory of the infamous Irish convict Alexander Pearce, filmed with gorgeous cinematography in the wilds of Australia. A dark look at what happened when Pearce and other convicts at the penal settlement in Van Diemen’s Land escape into the untamed bush in Tasmania. What followed is a gruesome tale of man v. wilderness, in which man – or one man – loses his mind entirely. This is a bit of history we haven’t seen much on film. Glad to see such an exciting, grim retelling of the well-known Tasmanian story.

Images (1972)imagesThe intersection of Robert Altman and the psychological horror sub-genre is what makes up my dreams!
Susannah York stars as a children’s author who has mental troubles, undergoing a horrifying experience while staying in a vacation home far out in the country. She suffers from mysterious apparitions, which beg the question: what is and isn’t real? The whole film will have you reeling, right to the shocking finale. York carries everything so perfectly, as Altman does his usual dance. Not a typical film of his, yet there are landmarks of his style. What we get is an eerie spiral towards insanity where we’re never sure what’s happening and what is a figment of her excitable imagination.

Homicide (1991)homicideThere’s a reason I’ll always love Joe Mantegna and David Mamet’s Homicide from 1991.
Mamet has a body of work that could make even accomplished writers weep with shame, from the stage to the screen he’s undeniably a master of his craft, both as a director and a writer. This one is different. Wedged in between the crime and the drama which works as the catalyst for everything else is a biting take on anti-Semitism and other issues surrounding Jewish people in America. Best is the struggle of Mantegna’s cop character, not quite fitting in at work and simultaneously not quite fitting in with his Jewish people. Unique perspective for a crime movie.
Again, too much would ruin the fun. You get to see Mantegna, William H. Macy, Ving Rhames. In particular it’s Mantegna, his character stuck between duty and faith, who impresses. This isn’t just a favourite of mine, it’s a ’90s classic which somehow gets overlooked too often. Don’t make that mistake, and definitely not if you dig Mamet.

Revanche (2008)revancheThis 2008 Austrian thriller gives its all in weaving a story through several characters, as we witness the various sides of revenge – from the side of the one seeking vengeance, and from the side of the one who caused such a need. The beauty of the film’s look is juxtaposed against its human cruelty and ugliness. You don’t need to hear another word.

The Last Wave (1977)the-last-wavePeter Weir: fucking magician.
The Last Wave masquerades for a long while as a straight up piece of cinema, one that’s full of drama and mystery to the brim. During the lead up to what the Aboriginals of Australia believe will be a devastating storm of cosmological influence, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) must defend four men in the case of a suspicious death, an Aboriginal man. Soon, Burton unearths in himself the belief that the storm coming is indeed catastrophic, and he also starts having prophetic, disturbing dreams.
You’ll never, for sure, what happens. Weir leaves us in the last frames with a decision for ourselves.
Is the storm real, is it the coming apocalypse? Or maybe it’s all inside Burton’s head after being wrapped up tight in his own madness?

Feed (2005)feedPicture enough?
This is a uniquely disturbing bit of horror. Find it. Hate it, or love it. But you’ll never see anything else even close to its strangeness.

Los sin nombre (1999)