Fargo – Season 3, Episode 2: “The Principle of Restricted Choice”

FX’s Fargo
Season 3, Episode 2: “The Principle of Restricted Choice”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of the Season 3 premiere, “The Law of Vacant Places” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Law of Non-Contradiction” – click here
Pic 1Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) goes over the crime in her head. She digs into the box she found at the Ennis’ place in the floorboards. Inside are several Thaddeus Mobley (Thomas Mann) novels, she flips through them to see if there are any little notes or anything significant stuck between the pages. Nothing. There’s a newspaper clipping of Mobley winning a Golden Planet award. A photo of a woman, signed. She says Ennis Stussy and Mobley are “one in the same.” Hmm.
Emmit Stussy (Ewan McGregory) and Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) go see Irv Blumkin (Hardee T. Lineham) about their problem with Mr. V. M. Varga (David Thewlis) and their stupid, illicit deal. The two men are clueless, it’s almost amazing how they got as far as they have at this point in life. A curt commentary on many ‘successful’ businessmen, to my mind. Either way, Emmit still has problems with Ray (McGregor), the stamp. Although Sy says he doesn’t want the stamp, he wants his brother’s life; the “green monster.”
Watching Irv operate a computer, let alone Google, is absurdly hilarious. When he manages to search Varga, a webcam turns on and takes a picture of them. Then everything shuts down. Now that can’t be a coincidence, can it? That Varga is sketchy. His teeth alone are the stuff of nightmares. Even with that grill of rotten chompers he’s somehow charming, in the way he speaks to others like some villain from a fairy tale whispering in the ear of others along the peripheries.
At a lot Sy and Emmit control, Varga’s parked a big rig truck. What could be inside? Something sinister? “Slave girls,” Sy wonders? Who the hell knows. They’re trying to cover their asses while bigger things are happening, and have been a long while, without their knowing.
Pic 1AGloria meets with Moe Dammick (Shea Whigham). He’s a bit more of a rough character than some of the cops we’ve seen on Fargo, which is a welcomed touch. There’s already a tension between the two characters, as well. He’s her new boss, and wants to lay down the law at the office. He also wants her to take time off, after the death of her stepfather Ennis.
She goes out and starts investigating. A store owner says a Russian man came in – though, he doesn’t remember it was only a shirt with Russia on it (that’ll cause something to fuck up at some point) – and tore a page from his phone book; we know that man was Maurice LeFay (Scoot McNairy), but the information’s been mangled by this bumbling man.
Ray is checking on the death of Maurice, at the very same time. It’s been logged as ACCIDENTAL. Making him a very happy man, putting more pieces of the puzzle together for him. All the while the guy’s brains are being scrubbed off the sidewalk over in front of the apartment where Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) lives. Things look as if they’re going well. She’s busy trying to put together a new job, to make more money. Ray would rather get “out of the woods” before anything else. She says there’s something wrong with his “chi.” Blocked up. Not good. Sometimes it’s like she strings him along, though it also looks at times like she loves him. She is damn dedicated, that’s for sure.
Ray: “I never killed anybody before
Nikki: “Well me either. Lifes a journey, yknow.”


Ray goes to Emmit’s place. At 10:30 in the night, imagine that? Goes to show the disconnected brothers, one a buttoned down family man and the other a semi-regular guy. It’s fun to watch McGregor play off himself, a hard thing to do. Yet each of the Stussy brothers is different. Their mannerisms, how they talk even under those Minnesota accents. While Ray apologises to his brother, inside the house Nikki tracks down the stamp’s location. It was moved. In its place is the picture of a donkey; an ass. She discovers the receipt for a safety deposit box in the office desk. Then leaves her bloody tampon in the drawer. What she doesn’t know is that the stamp wasn’t moved, the frame’s only being fixed.
Ah, the ole Fargo comitragedy of errors!
Moreover, we get a look at Meemo (Andy Yu) and his friend Yuri from the Old Country. They toss an old man over the side of a parking garage, then walk away like they just finished playing a game of basketball. Dark and hilarious. Now there’s more of a Russian-ish connection coming into play, I’m very interested to see that unfold.
Later, Emmit gets a call saying Irv jumped off his garage.


Gloria’s making arrangements to have Ennis buried, she and her boy Nathan (Graham Verchere). They can’t track him back past 1980, before he married her mother. He’s a bit of a mystery, especially considering her mom passed already. He didn’t really have friends. Gloria is stuck on the Mobley theory, which ought to prove for more interesting story in upcoming episodes.
In a diner Sy visits Ray, unhappy about the break-in. They certainly don’t have any kind of good relationship, not even a working one. Sy says Ray won’t ever speak to his brother again; “nonnegotiable,” he claims. Appears the guy’s got a temper, which Ray doesn’t take to nicely.
At the office Emmit finds Varga kicking around suddenly, like a wisp of fog out of thin air. He’s got Yuri and Meemo with him, too. They’re taking up some office space. They’ve got plenty of boxes of… files? Already being wheeled into an empty wing. We’re coming to see V.M’s shadiness. In a way, he represents others outside America today while Sy and Emmit are the stupid men at the helm of the nation currently in 2017; as he says, they think the deal “can be changed” but once you’ve started down certain roads there’s no stopping. “Youre trapped,” Varga explains. He further assures the audience of what happened with Irv. Nasty dude.
Pic 4Loved this second episode! Hawley did a great job writing, and the characters have started opening up. I particularly have interest in Varga, whose purpose becomes clearer with this episode and specifically the final few minutes. Awesome stuff.
“The Law of Non-Contradiction” is next week.

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Better Call Saul – Season 3, Episode 3: “Sunk Costs”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 3, Episode 3: “Sunk Costs”
Directed by John Shiban
Written by Gennifer Hutchison

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Witness” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Sabrosito” – click here
Pic 1We start in familiar desert territory. A Los Pollos Hermanos delivery truck drives down a desolate road. As if signifying what’s in the truck, as if we didn’t know, and how long this has been going on, the sneakers on an electrical wire above drop from their perch to the ground.
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) gets a call from Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) on the cell he’s found on top of a gas tank cap in the middle of a road. He’s told to “expect two cars momentarily.” The man himself arrives in sombre, black attire. Mike wants to know why he received the DON’T note. Gus relates that Hector Salamanca needs to stick around; at least for a while. But the problem is there have been threats, nasty business. What the owner of Los Pollos Hermanos explains is that, as long as the “hurt” Mike doles out to Hector is kept on a business level rather than a physical, fatal one, then he won’t interfere. Well, we know there’s more to Mike and Gus’ eventual relationship, so it’ll be interesting to watch it all play out. Now, Mr. Ehrmantraut makes clear he’s “not done” with Salamanca, and that he understands Fring wants to disrupt the guy’s business because they’re in drug competition.
It’s excellent to see the back story of these characters coming together.
Note: love how the camera frames Mike and Gus in positions of power; they’re on a flat, straight road, yet the shot shows them on an angle which puts Gus higher up on the plane than Mike. Very interesting, great filmmaking techniques are often used in this series (as it was on Breaking Bad) and that’s a huge reason why this is GREAT TELEVISION!
Pic 1AIn other news, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) must deal with the fallout from rushing in on brother Chuck (Michael McKean), smashing the tape recorder in a rage. He’s having a cigarette, finding the number he has for a bail bondsman. To see the brothers fall further into despair is ugly, considering the older brother’s planning on pressing charges. All under the guise of being for his younger brother’s benefit. I’m not sure if he’s being honest, or if it’s because he never wanted to see Jimmy succeed in the beginning. For his part, Jimmy tells Chuck that he’ll die alone.
Then it’s off to jail in a montage for the unlucky lawyer, the man we’ll someday know as Saul Goodman, lawyer to Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
What about Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn)? She’s busy, as usual. Doing the tough job of living life in the same hemisphere as the McGills. Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton) arrives to tell her he’s been fired, and worrying about Jimmy. And now she knows that her good buddy is sitting in lockup, clad in orange. In court he pleads Not Guilty; Kim turns up as his attorney, though he’d rather represent himself. He refuses to let her have any part, then he’s bonded out at $2,500 and gets back to the office to plead his case to Kim, to let her know he’ll fix things. Somehow.
Jimmy: “I fucked up
At a doctor’s office, Mike – or, Mr. Clark – goes in to see a “mutual acquaintance” to retrieve a package. He tucks it away in his trunk with the sniper rifle he’s carrying. Hmm, ominous. More trouble is certainly headed Hector Salamanca’s way.
Pic 2Jimmy’s trying to get an old law buddy to help with his case. Looks like it won’t pan out, seeing as how they’ve worked closely in the past. This takes the wind out of his sails a bit. More scheming ahead, just wait. Meanwhile, Chuck is meeting with an attorney about what’s happening next in his brother’s case. She isn’t going to take it easy on him, wanting to make sure lawyers aren’t held to a lesser standard. I only wonder: will his condition make it difficult, or cause issues, in court? Should be fun to watch.
Back to Mike, in the desert again. A place we Breaking Bad lovers realise he knows all too well by the time Walter enters his life. The old fella is out putting drugs in a pair of red sneakers, tossing them up on a nearby wire; the worn out shoes we see finally snap off the line some time down the road, as evidenced by the ALTO sign without the bullet holes shot through it yet.
He then sets up camp on a hill with his rifle, watching through binoculars to see who’s approaching on the road. A pair of men come to look under a sort of trap door in the desert floor; is this the same one Mike later goes to in Breaking Bad when he and Jesse make collections? Either way, Mike plays a game with the men. Then he shoots one of the shoes as the truck passes, letting a thin powder flow over the truck, catching on its rear step. Whoa. That’s fucking sneaky, dude. When the truck is stopped for inspection, a drug dog picks up on the scent, and voila! Another Salamanca plot foiled, another plus for Fring’s business. I can see already how the meth kingpin will come to find Mike and his services invaluable.
Going back to the opening scene, we understand this as being an illustration of how Gus now owns the route, that it’s a sign of his, for a long while, undisputed power. Where Hector’s trucks once ran, the opener shows us that Los Pollos Hermanos takes that route, well into the future, and the bullet-riddled ALTO sign shows that there are many wars to come.
While everything else is going on, Kim and Jimmy are dealing with the “boxed in” situation he finds himself in with Chuck. So, what next? She suggests he isn’t alone, that he needs her. But I can’t help feel this is a one-way ticket to the nail in the coffin for their relationship. Maybe not next week, or the week after. Just sooner than later.


Another great episode. Many say this show is slow. Part of why I dig the series is because it burns, slowly, and if you don’t dig it that’s fine. Don’t say the show isn’t good, because it is, it lays out the groundwork for great characters and compelling, well-written plot. Good on the writers and producers. Next week is “Sabrosito” and I know we’re seeing more of Mr. Fring, too.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 10: “The Cord”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 10: “The Cord”
Directed by Tucker Gates
Written by Kerry Ehrin & Carlton Cuse

* For a recap & review of the penultimate episode, “Visiting Hours” – click here
Pic 1Here we are at the series finale! The title of the episode refers to Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) talking to Mother (Vera Farmiga) about “the cord” between their hearts connecting them. Well, I bet it’s about to be cut, or snap in two. One way or another.
Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) has Regina (Aliyah O’Brien) and Norman in the car, heading to where the young man put Norma while he was off taking care of everything else. No telling how far the vengeance will go, or if it’ll even happen. Who knows where any of this is headed.
I know it’s nowhere any good. He lets Regina go, then he and Norman are left to trek in the woods by themselves.
Pic 1ASheriff Jane Greene (Brooke Smith) is picking up the pieces after Romero’s daring break-in to find the object of his revenge. She brings Dylan (Max Thieriot) in to tell him what happened, as well as to try figuring out where they may be gone. “He took him somewhere to kill him,” says Dylan with grim confidence.
What’s super interesting about the back half of this final season is how the older brother is concerned for the younger’s mental health. He knows he’s dangerous, but also there’s the knowledge that Norman is mentally ill; there is something wrong with him and there has been a LONG TIME. No one ever helped, Mother made it worse, now he’s a lost cause. Much like real life many want to only concern themselves with the crime, instead of paying attention to the terrible reasons for why it happened. And not always as easy done as said, which Dylan understands.
In the snowy woods Romero starts seeing the disconnect in Norman’s brain, between him and Mother. Although, unfortunately, he doesn’t quite comprehend it yet. Not enough to save him, as Mother takes over duties and remedies their situation. Once Alex helps uncover the cold corpse of Mrs. Bates he lets his guard down long enough to get himself killed by having his head smashed followed by a couple bullets from his own gun. In his dying words the former sheriff taunts, and Mother comes to tell Norman she has to leave. There’s no longer any need for her to protect him.
The cord’s been cut.
Romero: “You killed your own mother. You cant hide from it.”


Norman wakes up to Mother, next to him in bed. Things are bright and sunny and beautiful. She isn’t dead, they’re together. She makes breakfast for them. Only it’s all illusion; or, better put, delusion. He’s still in the snow bleeding, remembering happier times with Mother before they moved away from their old home. What a creepy sequence. As if he and Mother are first heading to White Pine Bay all over again, the beginning of a new life.
After all the horror, Norman Bates has gone back home.
In town, Dylan gets together with his old pal Remo Wallace (Ian Tracey), who’s still working for a marijuana grow op but a bigger, better one. They reunite, reminiscing on happier things. Remo’s brought him a little package: a gun. What for, exactly? Protection? Perhaps it’s a tool, a permanent and fatal medication for his ailing brother.
Speaking of Norman, he’s literally lost in delusion. Believing it’s the first time they’ve come to the motel, that he’s setting the pace up for business. A woman and her kids come to stay, which already scares me. With him hallucinating, forgetting, remembering things as current day, it’s a volatile place to be; anywhere near the Bates Motel for that matter.
Norman calls Dylan and this makes his delusional mind even clearer, saying that they’ve gotten to the “new house” and so on. Jesus. It’s just another reason for Dylan to think about whether he should help solve his younger brother’s problems permanently.
Pic 3Mother’s corpse is put away in her room, as Norman prepares for dinner with his brother. This is a tense moment leading up to their meal. We can feel Dylan struggling within. He calls up Emma (Olivia Cooke) and tells her what’s happening. She, obviously, suggests to call the sheriff, but he thinks it’ll end with cops rushing in, his brother dead. Their phone call is devastatingly emotional, as it could be the last time they ever talk. W’re about to find out.
Dylan readies himself to go up there with his gun. He also sees there are guests in the motel, whom he goes to warn. After they flee Dylan goes to the house, where Norman is happy to greet him, busy cooking supper. He tries to break through the psychosis, the delusional thought. However, it becomes terrifying for him once he sees that Mother is literally there for dinner with them, dead and half frozen at the head of the table. Actually makes him vomit.
Then everything gets intense. Dylan pleads with Norman to see the truth. Afterwards, young Bates grabs a knife and goes toward his brother who takes out his gun. “I just want to be with her, Dylan,” he says. When he charges at his brother with the blade Dylan is forced to shoot him. As Norman slips away he sees a vision of Norma, alive again, waiting for him out there in the forest with open arms, together once more.

Pic 4CA rendition of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” plays while the cops flood the Bates Motel, the woods where they locate Romero’s dead body. We see the motel go up for sale all over again, that old, eerie house with all its secrets sitting up on the hill, waiting for new owners to give it life. Emma and Dylan are still together, living happily after all the terror. And out in a quaint graveyard sits the Bates grave, Mother and her boy eternally in the ground. Noticeably, his side is a little empty while hers is filled with praise. Oh, Norman.
Pic 5What a great series! Loved the end. Even though I expected Dylan to be the one to finish off the legacy, I also didn’t know how it would go down. Great stuff, horrific and dramatic and all around excellent. An amazing adaptation, as I’ve said time and time again. Kudos to the entire cast and crew for a job well done.

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.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 9: “Visiting Hours”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 9: “Visiting Hours”
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Written by Scott Kosar

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Body” – click here
* For a recap & review of the series finale, “The Cord” – click here
Pic 1Norman (Freddie Highmore) is being booked into the police station, going through processing. Well, Mother (Vera Farmiga) is there, too. Love the excellent use of the idea of the double personality. How we see both Mother and Norman in the frame at once, as others only see the latter. Mother’s not happy to hear about the next steps, that her boy is likely headed to jail. Sweet, young Norman wouldn’t do well behind bars.
Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Dylan (Max Thieriot) are finally back together. She didn’t want him to be alone dealing with all the madness. Now, she also discovers her mother is dead, dredged from the lake. Murdered. And Dylan knows “it was Norman.” It’s not just the fact her mom is dead. It’s the fact Emma lived there in White Pine Bay, being around Norman and Mother so long, and she had no idea that this budding psychopath lurked in his skin. That one day he would do something so horrible. Such a feeling of deception, a truly deep betrayal.
Pic 1AThe Bates Motel is a scene of massive interest, various law enforcement teams searching the grounds, metal detectors, crime scene investigation. Sheriff Jane Greene (Brooke Smith) and a team are inside the eerie house, where Mother’s room remains untouched, and obviously her son’s been sleeping in her bed like a creep. A veritable house of horrors, if there ever were one. Outside they find luggage belonging to Audrey Decody, Emma’s mother. Downstairs, there’s poor Chick (Ryan Hurst), shot in the head by the still fleeing jailbird former Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell).
Speaking of Alex, he’s like a man with nothing at all whatsoever to lose. No telling what his next move is, part of the fun.
Meanwhile, Emma reels from the news about her mother, about Norman. I also feel bad for Dylan because, despite his own troubles and mistakes, he never wanted any of this, for himself or Emma. “You didnt bring Norman into my life,” she tells him. Things between the two of them aren’t easy, and she isn’t sure what this means for their relationship.
Lawyer Julia Ramos (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) visits with Norman/Mother. They speak of the coming trial, what he/she ought to expect. They have to discuss their “approach.” Y’know, keeping Norman alive. She wants to go for an insanity plea. Love this sequence, too. The editing cuts us from Mother speaking to Norman taking over. There’s a real battle happening inside that one body.
Norman: “Everyone has multiple personalities, Julia. We pull out what we need when we have to.”


The trouble between Dylan and Emma is compounded by the fact Julia wants him in court to sit behind Norman, to support his brother. It’s very difficult for him to turn his back. Not that a serial killer deserves sympathy. But this is the enjoyable part of this Psycho adaptation, is that Norman isn’t only this disturbed killer, we’ve seen a much more expanded, complex vision of who Norman Bates is and how he reached this destination. Because slashers are great, I personally love them.
But Bates has always been a more interesting character than a slasher; Hitchcock’s film and Peeping Tom from Michael Powell gave birth to the genre. He’s had more to him even in the little we get to see his psychosis through Hitchcock. Which is why I think Bates Motel is a worthy piece in the makeup of Norman Bates as a character, as it doesn’t squander the prequel. It does the story and the characters justice.
Alex is still out on the run. He gets gas and runs into a man interested in the late ’60s-era car he’s driving. Just a friendly thing, but enough to fuel more paranoia for a man escaping the law. And everywhere he goes he’s still reminded of Norma, the fact that Norman is a killer, so on.
In court, Dylan shows up to support his brother regardless of the trouble it causes; hard to turn your back on family, particularly the crazy ones. A preliminary hearing. First up is Sheriff Greene on the stand, who talks about the murder of Blackwell, as well as Sam Loomis and Emma’s mother. To see Norman listen to the recounting of his crimes along with others, probably the first time he’s actually faced them, it’s chilling. Now we’re seeing people heap blame on Dylan, for knowing there was something deeply wrong with his brother and not doing something about it. That’s unfair as a judgement.


Emma says goodbye to her mother in a quick cremation ceremony. She brings the ashes out to the woods and scatters them on the open air. Sort of a fitting tribute for a woman who so obviously lived a travelling lifestyle, away from her family. Sweet, but definitely simultaneously bitter. She and Dylan keep putting their best foot forward together, though it’s unclear how well that’ll work in the long run.
Before leaving Emma goes to visit Norman. It’s a painful thing, as he puts on his best act. Although it’s all but clear Mother is operating the controls for that conversation. Not accepting the blame, the best defence. And Emma knows, she asks: “Wheres Norman?” Then the conversation shifts with Mother talking directly to her. Ah, the psychosis is so very evident, in full view for the first time for her.
Not long later Alex puts a gun to Julia in the parking lot, pushing his way inside the station. Closer to Norman. He puts everyone at gunpoint, making the officers hug the floor. He takes things slow, being careful, disarming them. Another officer shows up and gets a bullet to the shoulder.
Romero gets to the cell, then Norman is taken out as the officers are locked inside. He almost chokes the young man to death before letting go. He piles himself, Norman, and Regina into a car, then they’re headed to wherever the son put Mother’s body. Shiiiit.


What a spectacular penultimate episode to this series! Wow. I’m consistently amazed by this series, and now and then it really takes me for a perfect ride. I think Season 5’s been my favourite of all, honestly. They’re swinging for the fences and producing the best Norman Bates prequel that they could have done. Last episode is “The Cord” and I believe that’ll be in reference to the cord connecting Mother and Norman, the figurative umbilical cord still attaching the boy to his mom? Maybe. We’ll see.

The Path – Season 2, Episode 13: “Mercy”

Hulu’s The Path
Season 2, Episode 13: “Mercy”
Directed by Jessica Goldberg
Written by Jessica Goldberg

* For a recap & review of the penultimate Season 2 episode, “Spiritus Mundi” – click here
Pic 1Here we are: the final episode of The Path‘s Season 2! What a ride it’s been, I do hope that we’re getting another season. But first, let’s see where this one ends.
Last we saw, Richard (Clark Middleton) was about to set himself and the compound, specifically the archives room where all the unburdening tapes – the blackmail weapons – are kept.
Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) and Eddie (Aaron Paul) are together with their daughter. They’re living a different life, out in the real world, in a seaside Canadian town. “Are we safe now?” Summer (Aimee Laurence) asks.
Is this a vision of the future, a life beyond Meyerism and its cult for the Lanes? Or are we seeing a dream? It looks like reality. We then see Cal (Hugh Dancy) go back to his little room with Mary (Emma Greenwell) and their newborn baby. It looks as if the Lanes finally made it out, all of them – well, aside from Hawk (Kyle Allen) it seems.
Everyone else is moving on, three weeks after the birth of Emma’s child. The events of the previous episode set off a series of repercussions that everyone’s still learning how to deal with, still understanding. Sarah’s confused; her daughter wants her parents back together, but mom isn’t entirely sure. The entire web of relationships is fractured, possibly beyond repair. Sarah tries justifying what she did with the blackmail, yet also harbours deep guilt over Richard’s death.
Pic 1AThe Meyerists continue trying to move past Richard’s death, the fire. They all lay cacti and plants at the site, a sort of ceremony. Meanwhile, Hank and Gab (Peter Friedman/Deirdre O’Connell) wonder how things will continue, as Bill and a reluctant though present Felicia (Brian Stokes Mitchell/Adriane Lenox) assure them – Cal is “good for the movement.” Right. The fearless leader’s too busy licking his wounds over Sarah that it’s a wonder he can concentrate at all. Between that and having a lovechild with Mary, one everyone’s gossiping about behind their backs.
It’s nice to finally see Eddie, Sarah, and Summer living a normal life away from the compound; too bad Hawk’s brainwashed. The three walk on the beach, they spend time in the open air without having to do any creepy, weird shit. They’re an actual family again, bound by themselves instead of some cult nonsense. More than that it’s clear Sarah’s never actually fallen out of love with her estranged husband.
On the street, Eddie runs into Abe (Rockmond Dunbar). He’s not happy that his case essentially up and ran away. He came to see Eddie, to “bring him back” to his people. Whatever that means.
Pic 2At the centre, Hawk gets an envelope from his mother reading DO SOMETHING WITH IT – the results from the Clarkesville water tests. Hmm. There’s something bigger, more major coming with that whole plotline. I’m just curious to see where Hawk takes it, and whether it changes him.
Abe drops Eddie home. Following nearby is Russel (Patch Darragh), too. Inside are the former Deniers, all meeting to figure out what’s their next step. Eddie tells them about his visions, how it isn’t clear. It’s not about seeing the finish line; he’s on a journey, like the rest of them. “I dont know if Im the one,” he tells them. He’s unsure, even with the blessing of Steve Meyers (Keir Dullea). Nevertheless there are people who now count on him, who BELIEVE in him. Of course Russel brings information back to Cal – Sam Field isn’t who he said he is, he’s been in league with Eddie. And he tells Cal of the Deniers, their hope to reform Meyerism. That doesn’t sit well, either.
Cal’s fragile psychological state is scary. When he goes home to Mary she’s asking questions about Eddie. This further reveals that Cal believes “people don’t know what they want.” He has contempt for others. But Mary’s smarter than he understands. She tells him: “You are what we want.” And she suggests something must be… done… with Eddie. So the two have a chat when Cal shows up down at the Deniers HQ. He acts quite threatening, as well as too sure of himself, full of ego. None of his behaviour will drive Eddie away, though. Unless it comes down to Sarah.
Pic 3Speaking of her, she’s out experiencing the world, dinner at a friend’s place. Then comes the questions of where she came from. Why nobody can Google her. So on. Sarah gets paranoid, so she and her daughter sneak out the bathroom window and run. They head to their house, grab a few things, and they take off. An intense scene, with a pounding score.
Hawk walks in to find Eddie, Cal, and Libby Dukaan. Troubling, not to mention the fact his father appears not as enraged or defiant as normal. A little later Cal talks about Eddie, saying he’s willing to drop all he believes in to help Sarah; funny, as this shows that Cal cares most about the movement and himself. Sadly, Mary can’t see that, not yet. Although she’s full of spite enough to try and twist things up for the father of her child; the identity of whom she reveals to Hawk, in order to stir up some trouble.
Sarah heads for the border with Summer, determined on doing the “right thing” so that her daughter can be proud of her. Will she turn herself in? Is that actually her plan? Meanwhile, Hawk goes to see his dad. He discovers the truth of Eddie as Steve’s chosen one to lead the movement. He also finds out that his dad got Libby to pay back the people Sarah blackmailed. But this also means there’s nothing going ahead with the water tests. Eddie further believes he isn’t the one to lead. Through it all, Hawk, the one who was so brainwashed, falling away from his dad, may be the one to convince him.


A great sequence cuts parallel between Eddie preaching about mercy and Cal practising a speech about loss. What we see is how Cal has to rehearse his movements, whereas the compassion for others, the speech, it all comes easy to Eddie; like a natural extension of himself. This is THE GREATEST SEQUENCE OF THE SERIES! Hands down. And all the while as we visually comprehend the differences between the opposing leaders, Sarah wanders a rock maze, trying to rediscover her own way on the path. Just amazing filmmaking here in this scene, from writing to editing to score.
One good thing, I suppose, is that Cal comes into his own as the father of Mary’s child. They name him Forest Roberts, due to his being born in the wilderness.
Sarah confronts Eddie about his choice to reverse the blackmail. He assures her that her life “will be hell” and she won’t need to look for punishment, not from the law or anywhere else. For once, she’s now the one who wants to walk away and have a family, away from a cult. She doesn’t want him to “go back inside.” She worries it’ll wash away what’s good about him.


At the compound, Ascension Day is underway. Sarah walks into the midst of the celebration, as Cal preaches his rehearsed speech. Everyone eats it up, too. They love it and him. They sing songs of Meyerism, acting like a big, happy family. Then they’re distracted by a noise from out at the gate. The Deniers have come, Eddie leading the crowd. Hank even lets them in willingly.
What a stunning moment! Some greet Eddie, others leave. Perfectly Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” plays in the background. Soon, people walk from out behind Cal, joining the rightful Guardian of the Light. A change is coming. Just a case of who, and what, is left standing when all is said and done.
Pic 6Pic 6AI LOVED THIS FINALE! Even better than the Season 1 finale, as well. Spectacular work, especially now as we sit on the edge, waiting to see how Cal moves forward – no doubt treachery and violence are on his path – and how Eddie handles the movement, plus I can’t wait to see what Sarah chooses as her own personal way forward.
Hulu: renew this, or feel my wrath.

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.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 8: “The Body”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 8: “The Body”
Directed by Freddie Highmore
Written by Erica Lipez

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Inseparable” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Visiting Hours” – click here
Pic 1Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) has turned himself in, as Dylan (Max Thieriot) was nearly consumed whole by his psychosis. Now Sheriff Jane Greene (Brooke Smith) is at the house, asking questions, while Norman begs for his medication, to be taken away from that place where Mother (Vera Farmiga) lurks in the shadows. He is all but literally screaming out for help. This is another reason why I love the adaptation of Hitchcock and Bloch’s Psycho(s), because it’s twisted into something very familiar yet wholly unique. Whereas the Norman we saw in Hitchcock was utterly insane, his life as Mother basically hidden from his own view, Highmore’s Norman is one who recognises he is crazy and wants that to change, or at the least be contained.
So on he goes to the station where Sheriff Greene interrogates him about Blackwell and an unidentified corpse of a woman. The young man’s mind is fractured into so many pieces it could take years before all of it comes as a proper puzzle. But right now, he can’t even get help. The sheriff thinks he’s a “child” who adopted an “adult affect” and that this story’s a made-up, tall tale.
And what a microcosm of modern mental health! The guy is calling for someone to aid him in combating his own thoughts, his own dark mind. All she can do is believe it’s a cry for attention. Norman knows, though; he knows that he has killed, more than once.
Pic 1AThey lock him in a cell for the night. He gets his medication, thankfully. I only wonder, how will even a night play out stuck in such a tiny space with Mother yapping? Well, she antes up and sticks her fingers down her boy’s throat to make him spew the pill. Can’t have him being medicated, away from her influence. Then, as Mother, he bashes himself unconscious; or at least that part
Note: Highmore directed this episode, and right away in this scene he does this interesting shot where Norma cradles Norman, and they’re framed through the upright toilet seat, as if the world is enclosed with the frame itself, a world where only the two of them exist.
At the diner, Dylan talks with an attorney, Julia Ramos (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), about his brother. He mentions that Emma’s (Olivia Cooke) mother showed up at the motel, then suddenly disappeared. Highly suspicious, to any eyes.
With Mother calling the shots she’s out demanding to leave the station. Using all her powers to persuade Sheriff Greene. This doesn’t work. The sheriff puts Norman under arrest, and Mother’s LIVID!


Ah, my man – Charles ‘Chick’ Hogan (Ryan Hurst). He’s back and listening to John Denver. He sees that the Bates Motel is awash in law enforcement of all kinds: “Oh, deary, deary me,” laments the big guy. He was there to bring over a bit of taxidermy, only to find the place in upheaval. He’s glad to hear Norman isn’t dead, that’s one good thing.
Julia goes to speak with Norman, hired by Dylan. Things are difficult due to his apparent confession. Compounded by the fact he gave them places to look specifically for bodies. Norma’s still operating the controls, hoping to figure out how she and her boy can weasel out of the confession; you can see the wheels turning, as Mother smiles back through Norman’s eyes.
And Dylan; oh, Dylan! I want him to get back home to Emma and the baby. It scares me the longer he’s in White Pine Bay, away from his family… too close to Norman, and Mother.
So we’ve got Julia doing her best to represent Norman. He’s so different when in his Mother persona, even Sheriff Greene sees that but just can’t explain it. Norman talks a good game about being in love with Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally), then seeing Sam cheating behind her back. He says Madeleine came to her one night, telling him Sam was dead, out in the woods. WOW! Mother’s actually trying to pin this on the innocent wife, shedding tears through Norman and everything. What manipulation.


The sheriff goes to speak with Madeleine about her husband. To investigate the bizarre claims of Norman. Things are about to get quite interesting, especially once the cops go looking around at the old well in the forest.
Dylan gets a visit from Sheriff Greene. They’ve identified the corpse of the woman in the lake – Audrey Ellis, Emma’s mother. His worst suspicions confirmed. “I understand loyalty,” the sheriff tells him, advising that families can be destroyed by far less than the darkness that’s swallowing his whole currently.
In other news, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is leaving Maggie’s (Jillian Fargey) place. He found his gun. Only, what’s next for him? What is his endgame? He’s already back at the motel, staring up at that creepy house. He goes inside, seeing the ghost of Norma on the stairs, the painful memories everywhere.
When he goes downstairs he finds Chick, typing away working on his book, listening to the tapes he made of Norman. Alex demands to know why he’s there, so Chick explains the friendship he had with young Bates. After their talk, Romero’s curious where Norman put Mother’s body. Then he puts a bullet in Chick’s brain.
Police have come across the well Norman/Mother spoke of, where he says Madeleine rambled about putting her husband’s dead body. Sure enough, there it is, right where they left the thing. Too many weird pieces for Sheriff Greene to understand yet. She goes back for another chat with Norman; only brief, to say he’s been charged with killing Blackwell and Emma’s mother, as well.
Shit. Mother’s plans didn’t work out like she expected.


This was a fantastic episode directed by Highmore! A talented young gentleman, I hope he directs some films eventually. Lots of promise in the direction here, a good eye.
Up next is “Visiting Hours” and we’re getting so close to the grim finale. I can’t even imagine how it’ll play out at the end.

Bates Motel – Season 5, Episode 7: “Inseparable”

A&E’s Bates Motel
Season 5, Episode 7: “Inseparable”
Directed by Steph Green
Written by Freddie Highmore

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Marion” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Body” – click here
Pic 1Now that Norman (Freddie Highmore) has killed Sam Loomis, there’s a little of issue of disposing of the body with which he has to deal. Luckily he’s got Mother (Vera Farmiga) to help. She’s old hand at these kinds of things. The two split psyches each take their own respective duties, as she handles all the bloody, messy bits. To help protect her boy from the nasty truth. Regardless, he’s having trouble with the entire situation.
Norma: “You wanna play with the big kids, you gotta act like the big kids.”
Worse is the fact the pair find that in the nearby lake, their dumping grounds, a body’s pulled from the water. Norman worries about Jim Blackwell’s corpse being found, that Sheriff Jane Greene (Brooke Smith) will catch them. While Mother and her boy argue, they slap one another across the fact, and the large wedge between them opens up, as Norman finally figures out this isn’t the first time they’ve been out dumping bodies under cover of night. They dump Sam in a well in the woods, but it feels too rushed.
Pic 1ABack at the motel Norman runs into none other than Sheriff Greene, who’s there to talk about what they found in the lake. “Multiple bodies” and one of them Mr. Blackwell. So Norman plays his game trying to keep his secret life under wraps, as the sheriff’s still wondering about all the connections, as well as whatever Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is up to since his escape. A tense conversation between Greene and the young man. He’s just barely hanging on to the mask.
Speaking of Romero, he’s recuperating in bed at the home of an old friend. She’s taken care of his wound, now he’s on bed rest and eating breakfast. Lucky for him he has anyone, particularly after his early exit from jail.
More every minute, Norman worries about what’ll happen if the authorities come snooping around. He has to figure out what to do with Mother, so that nobody finds her body. An awkward moment; almost like the roles have reversed temporarily, and Norman is shielding Mother from the harsher truth of having to move her body. Such a strangely compelling scene. And of course any time we see the body it’s a – I swear this isn’t meant to be a pun – cold reminder of what is really going on inside that creepy house. Either way he takes Mother’s body out to a special place in the woods where the ground is nice and cool, to preserve her until she can come home.


Dylan (Max Thieriot) has come back to White Pine Bay, after hearing of his mother’s supposed suicide. Being back in the house is like a punch in the gut for him, knowing there is more to the story of her death. Walking around the house, he can feel his mother there. Her presence isn’t gone, barely even a bit. The place is a mess, dishes in the sink, and Norma’s high heels are kicked off in front of one of the chairs. One truly eerie shot there. Dylan tries to act normal with his brother, not immediately throwing suspicion and guilt around. They actually act like brothers, for a moment. Until Mother comes lurking in the background. Big brother does express his worry for little brother living alone, not seeing his doctor, and he wants to stay a few days to help Norman smooth life out. Hmm, not sure how that’ll play out with Mother creeping. Her room is virtually untouched, like a shrine.
In his friendly hospice, Alex wants to find his gun, but his friend hides it from him. She doesn’t want him running off and doing more stupid shit to dig his hole deeper. They’re friends from growing up in White Pine Bay, she knows him through and through. And she can tell this has to do with Norma Bates.
At home, Mother worries about having Dylan around. She calls him “misguided” and plays the Him v. Us card. That he’ll make things too difficult, he can’t be part of their life now. Just Mother and her little boy, that’s the way it was intended. Will he go along with it? Can he convince Dylan that everything’s swell and he can go on back to his life with Emma and their new baby?
Out trying to get his brother more medication, Dylan discovers Norman’s doctor has been missing for over a year; there’s no way his brother had coffee with him recently. Yikes. Everything gets trickier when Dylan also runs into Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally). She’s looking for Sam. The missing people on the possible list are piling up.
Pic 3Norman’s cooking a nice dinner for he and his brother. Life seems grand, music plays. All appears right. Certainly Dylan can’t shake what he knows, or what he thinks he knows. He brings up Sam Loomis, they have a conversation about what Norman remembers. He makes up a little(/tall) tale. It all devolves as the younger of the two gets upset over his older brother “meddling with the truth.” All Dylan wants is to protect him, to help him heal and get better. He tries convincing Norman to take his pills again.
Then it all goes haywire. Mother comes out to speak with her oldest boy. She doesn’t want her baby taking the medication, effectively making her go away. Unfortunately, there’s only room for one of Norma’s children. She tries to kill Dylan, Norman holding back the knife in her hand. The two personalities wrestle, as Dylan watches on in horror. Norman manages to overcome her.
He goes to the phone. Dials 911. And he reports himself for the murder of Sam Loomis before Mother can stop him.
Pic 4WOW! Just, damn. I didn’t see that ending coming. This puts the last few episodes into a wild frame, not exactly positive what the endgame is but I’m excited to watch it unfold. The next episode is “The Body” and I’m wondering if we’re about to see some truly disturbed, insane acting from Highmore once he and Mother are under lock and key.

The Path – Season 2, Episode 12: “Spiritus Mundi”

Hulu’s The Path
Season 2, Episode 12: “Spiritus Mundi”
Directed by Sian Heder
Written by Coleman Herbert

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Defiance” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 2 finale, “Mercy” – click here
Pic 1In the woods, Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell) finds herself lost after fleeing the car with Sean (Paul James), his mother, and the cult deprogrammer. Now she can’t find her way through the darkness, calling for Cal (Hugh Dancy), for anyone to come get her. Then she gets pains in her stomach, her baby could possibly be in danger.
Meanwhile, Abe (Rockmond Dunbar) talks with Eddie (Aaron Paul) about Sarah (Michelle Monaghan) and her blackmail, facing a “4 years minimum sentence” for what she’s done to the Meyerists who once unburdened in the faith and hopes of privacy. So, how do these two men go about navigating the waters ahead? Eddie believes Abe needs to make his own choice, in regards to what he ought to do with the information he’s gathered.
At the compound in one of those little white rooms, Cal and Sarah interrogate Richard (Clark Middleton) about taking things to Eddie behind their backs. At the same time, Felicia (Adriane Lenox) is likewise interrogated. Whereas Richard gives them bullshit, Felicia doesn’t mess around and tells them the truth – Steve (Keir Dullea) and the Light intended on Eddie taking up the cause. Nevertheless, Sarah feels betrayed by Richard particularly, wanting to label him a denier. Later when Bill (Brian Stokes Mitchell) arrives, he’s not pleased with what Felicia’s been doing behind his back; he’s also more realistic, in a way, than his partner. He doesn’t believe in the Ladder burning her, calling it all a story, which seems to drive a deep wedge between them right away. She’s not ready to “atone” for anything Cal, Sarah, or Bill want her to, and this really looks like it eats them all up inside; Cal most.
Eddie: “Sleep the sleep of the just


Hank (Peter Friedman) goes to tell Eddie that “they know” and that everything is over. I get the feeling this is going to push Eddie into a dangerous space. Because he knows he’s right, in many respects. But it’s now a question of whether he wants to push things past the breaking point, and whether the Meyerist cult is going to retaliate in an unsettling way. How far is Sarah willing to go, now that she’s gone so far over the line? She wonders if Steve was right, though. About Eddie. After which Cal tells her: “Steves words mean nothing.” If so, for real, how can they go on believing what they believe?
Out on the town, Eddie tracks down another denier. A bartender who was kicked out for supposed subordination. All due to a run-in with Cal, because he was getting ahead and Cal wasn’t at the time; Steve was favouring someone else. The guy seemed to have loved Meyerism, for what it was, an enlightening experience of self, but it was Cal, those competitive, weird bits that were the destruction.
Cal and Sarah try reassuring everyone, after Richard’s betrayal, that things are going well, and that going forward they’ll be fine. Big, big talk. Hawk (Kyle Allen) and Noa (Britne Oldford) look on proudly. Russel (Patch Darragh) goes to Cal alone to tell him he wants to help “maintain law and order” however possible. Although Hank’s still not sold, even if he pretends to accept things as they lie. And Abe, he drops off his tests about the water in a car – Sarah’s car – in the parking lot. I wonder what this will set in motion.


Out finding more deniers, Eddie convinces others he wants to change the movement. To reform certain policies, to make Meyerism what it’s meant to be and not some insane cult. In the trees, Sarah lurks, watching. He confronts her and tells her the movement can be better. He also lets slip he knows of the blackmail, that the deniers could testify against her. Eddie speaks ominously when he says to his wife: “One way or another, you will be punished.” Whoooa, that was an intense moment courtesy of both Mr. Paul and Ms. Monaghan. When she’s on her way back home a vehicle stars chasing her, ramming the car from behind, before it pushes her into a guardrail and flips her car, crashing hard. What timing, after Eddie’s harsh yet plausible words.
Poor Richard wakes up in a homeless shelter, nowhere in the real world that will take him after many years under the veil of Meyerism. Life hasn’t exactly turned out how he expected. He goes to a law school, tracking down a man named Jeremiah (Brian Yang); someone he knew in another life, before the cult. Jeremiah’s married to a nice man, kids, the whole deal. Richard needs a couch to sleep on, but his old friend – a lover, most definitely – can’t oblige after two decades. Sad to see the ruin of a life like Richard’s after believing in a faith that ostracises and pushes people away, often in a violent emotional manner, now coming out the other end worse for wear.
Everyone’s worried about Sarah, she hasn’t come home, she hasn’t called. Cal and Hawk assume she’s with Eddie; the two of them and Hank try calling around to find out where she’s disappeared. And Mary, she’s still lost, too. Having complications when her water seems to burst.


In the hospital, Sarah wakes with luckily only a broken arm. At her bedside is Cal. She tells him she was run off the road. More paranoia for them and the movement. She also tells Cal that Eddie knows, of the money, the blackmail. Will this lead them to Abe working undercover? If that’s the case, I worry for him. I never stop worrying about Eddie, either. Only takes a suggestion for Cal to believe he had anything to do with Sarah’s accident. He then takes his suspicions to Hawk, which could make things get ugly. Cal knows what he’s doing by telling him. Rotten and manipulative.
Abe is busy building his case. People are brought in to videotape their statements, bringing out all about Sarah taking money from those who once unburdened themselves to Steve and the movement.
Back at his place Eddie discovers Hawk waiting, angry. This is disgusting to watch. Cal has manipulated the kid into hating his father, believing the worst of him. He is so far gone he’ll never come back. He wants Eddie to leave, won’t even call him dad anymore. And it breaks the well-meaning father’s heart to hear and see.
At the compound Mary is found on the roadside, bloody, unconscious. Her baby happy and healthy, it seems. For the first time Sarah looks at the child, then at Cal, and realises who the father is, truly.


Eddie: “Theres a fine line between a tool and a weapon
Going to see Eddie, Richard pleads for him not to leave. He wants them to help people, to actually do good instead of letting the bad overcome all the Meyerists worked for over the years. For his part Eddie isn’t willing to fight, not any harder than he has already. Will he come back?
Everything for Sarah and Cal has changed. Just in the way she looks at him, it’s evident. He apologises without her saying a word. “I was asleep,” she tells him re: his true self, his behaviour, the bodies and wreckage in Cal’s path. She already knew. However, what does she do now that she’s “wide fucking awake” after all this time? Things have really taken a turn, in all respects, during this episode.
While everyone in the movement has a ceremony for the baby, Richard shows up, declaring Eddie Lane as the true leader. He locks everyone inside their little church, calling Cal a “snake” and yelling for anyone nearby to hear. He heads to the records room. As Sarah and a guard try to get in, Richard produces a gas can; is he really going to light all those files, the tapes, himself, and the whole place on fire? An excellently edited sequence sees Richard pouring gas as Eddie fills his car with gas elsewhere; Eddie feels something happening. Haunting score, intense cuts, perfect acting.
Before Richard lights the place, he urges Sarah to run. And she obliges.
Pic 4BWhat an intense episode! WOW. Richard sacrificed himself to something greater, for real. No Ladder, no Light. He sacrificed himself, and now where does the movement go from here? Likewise, does this put a wrench into the works for Abe or does he already have enough information to bury Sarah, Cal, and the entire cult? We’ll see.
Only one episode left, titled “Mercy” – and then it’s Season 3, or bust. I hope they’ll give us another one, depending on how the season finishes. Excited to watch what’ll unfold.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 4: “Bad Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 4: “Bad Mojo”
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Written by Abe Sylvia & Ione Lloyd

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Holy Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Pie a la Mojo” – click here
Pic 1A young Hap and Leonard are at the fair. Even back then Hap was in love with Florida, though worried he wasn’t good enough. And the pair loved one another, Hap and Leonard, even then. Unafraid to show their affection for each other. In the garage, present day, Hap (James Purefoy) wakes to find Sneed (Evan Gamble) and a few other cops there to arrest him. Now he’s in a cell across from Leonard (Michael K. Williams), in for the arson he committed. Hap’s in for kidnapping Judge Beau Otis, whom he recently discovered is epileptic; wonder if that’ll come into play again down the road, or if it had anything to do with his killing of their fathers. Hmm.
Pic 1ASheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) has a talk with Hap about whether he’s a “troublemaker.” He does not want any trouble with his brother; he is poised to be the new county judge. So it’s either leave things alone with Beau and go home, both he and Leonard, or else it’ll look grim. And no more digging around where neither of them belong. Some rough talk. In an interrogation, Leonard’s dealing with Dt. Hanson (Cranston Johnson) and his racist partner, neither of them being too friendly. As always, Mr. Pine won’t do the dance, not for a black cop or a white cop or anyone else that wants him to tell lies about himself.
Leonard: “And we aint no brothers. Slack or no slack.”
At least he’s out of jail, and Hap, too. Neither of them immediately see a way forward. It’s all over, so Hap heads out to work and Leonard goes to check on Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon). They did their best. That’s all they can do, right?
Florida (Tiffany Mack) has an awkward meeting with Hap at the diner after she didn’t show up for his and Leonard’s arrest. It wasn’t hooking up that made her stay away, it’s the fact they’re constantly in trouble and poking around in some dangerous business. What I love about this episode so far is that Hap seems to be having some strange daydreams, from hooking up with Florida to the Village People. Over with Meemaw (Irma P. Hall), Leonard and Ivan get closer. Then Leonard notices the picture of the church on her mantle, where the gate stood. A troubling thought. It was long ago, when Meemaw was a girl. She tried putting out the far the Klansmen set, burning her arms. Such a sad thing to see when she tells Leonard of what happened that day.


Dt. Hanson is looking at the child’s body in the morgue. His partner Charlie is worried that he’ll be caught “tampering” but it’s only the fact he knows there’s more afoot. Hanson pushes on, he’s starting to feel there is more than meets the eye. Suddenly, Sheriff Valentine arrives, as the detectives hide. The old man is there to visit the body. He has the shoes. Holy fuck. And with the detectives watching on unseen he puts the little red shoes right in the body bag, signing off forms for the medical examiner. Washing his hands of the situation, the body off for cremation. Or so he thinks. There is no way Hanson will let this sit on his conscience, at least not forever.
I love how, using the same line of dialogue, Hap and Leonard both figure out the gate is from a church. It’s just excellent writing, and they each deliver the line is such different yet similar ways that the respective scenes are perfect. Hap does a bit more investigating, trying to figure out if the church he’s located is the one where the gate stood years ago. During a charity boxing event at the church, he gets in on a boxing match and things get heated in front of Florida and the audience as Hap and the pastor throw fists. Ultimately the white boy goes down, not without a decent fight.
Meanwhile, Leonard’s tracking down information on the church. And he’s haunted by the ghost of his uncle Chester, as well as Illium Moon.


Leonard: “Goddamn peckerheads all think alike
Hap: “I thought it was great minds
Leonard: “In your case, peckerheads.”
The pair are getting closer and closer, finding their way to where Old Hope church used to stand. All that’s left are the bricks of the foundation, nothing much standing. Then they fall right through an old, broken floor. Through the basement they find coffins labelled with years. Inside, more children. Disturbing, to say the least. Now the boys have got themselves a handful; way more than that, two arm loads. They set themselves up an investigation, connecting dates, names of the missing boys. An elaborate puzzle they’ve got to put together, because it looks as if whoever’s been taking those boys and killing them isn’t done with whatever they’d planned.
Hanson and his partner are distraught over what they’ve seen. Although it’s the former who’s more interested in actually digging out the truth. Not just that they’re in the dark, struggling for clues. Hap and Leonard are further ahead in their investigation than the actual police force. A great testament to the lack of care put into missing black children; we think it’s bad today, it was even worse in the ’80s.


Hap and Leonard are trailed by the police on the latest leg of their adventure. They pop in to see Stella at the salon. She’s sly, as are the other ladies sitting around getting their hair done. Great moment as Stella tells the cops to find her missing son while they’re so concerned with tracking down the pair. Then the other mothers show up. Hap and Leonard are the only ones looking for the missing boys.
Love the sequence set to Johnny Cash’s “Wayfaring Stranger” as the pair ride a bus, all the young black boys and girls around them. What would otherwise be a beautiful sequence of all the smiling faces, the youthful innocence, is a tragic sight; seeing Hap especially look at them is like a gut punch, knowing any one of them could go missing and barely anyone would flinch as is the case with BB and the others. Haunting sequence, one of the best in the series as a whole.
Pic 4DArriving at a carnival, now knowing part of their map of the missing boys links to the busses and Idaho, Hap and Leonard have more to go on. BB’s little body has been cremated, but the shoes aren’t gone yet.
The next episode is “Pie a la Mojo” and it looks intense! Pumped to see what goes on next in this stellar adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s characters and novels.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 3: “Holy Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 3: “Holy Mojo”
Directed by Abe Sylvia
Written by John Wirth

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Bad Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Some little black boys and girls play near a graveyard, some hide and seek. Off in the distance are hooded Klansmen on their way towards the church. The children are rushed into a basement, as the white hoods march closer with gas and ropes fashioned into nooses. But one little girl doesn’t make it down, witnessing the burning of her church, the hanging of a groundskeeper. A brutal, vicious moment. She continues to count for hide and seek; better than watching.
Pic 1APresent day, we see Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams) on their way up to Moon’s cabin, talking about Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack). When they arrive, they find a van in the river with Moon inside, dead. Now the pair worry for what happens to Leonard. Hap wants to move the body, though his trusty buddy tells him: “Thats bad mojo.” The chemistry between Purefoy and Williams is so charming and undeniable, they’re perfect as Joe R. Lansdale’s eponymous characters. Instead of reporting anything to the police the boys sink the van further in the river, to keep on with their own investigation. They also stumble upon the steel gate to which the child under Chester’s house was tied; where the hands remain.
Florida goes to talk with Judge Beau Otis (John McConnell) about recusing himself from the Pine case. She uses the information about Hap and Leonard’s fathers against him, though he acts high and mighty, refusing to bend. She pulls a nice little power move before leaving, eating one of his fries.
At home, Hap goes over clues in the case, putting together all the evidence he can gather. Looking over maps, newspaper articles. Meanwhile, Leonard looks after Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), cooking for him and trying to imbue the boy with a sense of personal responsibility. He then gets a visit from Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) with a warrant to search the place. Ivan takes off, tossing the secret box he holds onto Melton’s (Sedale Threatt Jr) roof. Hmm.


Florida wants the boys to talk to Moon, so Hap’s got to do some covering. Wonder if it’ll take long before the truth comes out. Time being, “dirty old man” Hap can’t keep his eyes off Ms. Grange. She has her hands full with the case, butting heads with Dt. Hanson over Officer Sneed (Evan Gamble) lurking around after assaulting Leonard. Worse than that Sneed spied Ivan tossing that box. Can’t imagine where that’ll lead; someplace nasty.
One good thing – Hap and Leonard find Ivan stowed away in the truck, and he says he knows where the gate came from, he can take them there. One bad thing? Hanson and Florida go to find Moon, and the detective comes across evidence suggesting he’s nowhere to be found. Uh oh.
That good thing, it ain’t so good when Hap and Leonard end up somewhere they shouldn’t be, and a group of neighbourhood women surround the boys. They want them to hand over Ivan. Afterwards, they go to see Stella (Shirlene King), the lady in charge. When they tell her about investigating the disappearance of all those boys, she’s got information that may help – the gate came from a church – and it’s possible her boy was one of the boys taken.
Leonard: “Aint no runninfrom your shadow
Judge Otis shows up at the gas station where Hap works. For a fill-up, and a talk about Leonard. A sassy talk, especially for a man who’s a judge and killed a couple people while driving drunk. For that, Hap cuts up some equipment under the guy’s hood and lets him go on.


Stopping at a store, Leonard comes back outside to find Ivan gone. And a cheap cigar left behind smoking. Sneed? I’d bet on it.
Broke down on the road, Judge Otis is met by Hap in the tow truck. He busts out one of the guy’s windows, then forces him into the woods. He tells the Judge a story about an old man and the dog he loved, a bad, sour dog. One day a kid was bitten by the dog, right in the chest, in the heart. Before Hap can bash the Judge’s head in, he nearly has a heart attack. He leaves the man in the woods to run off eventually.
At a diner, Sheriff Valentine Otis (Brian Dennehy), father of Beau, has a talk with Florida. About jobs, who’s doing them well, who isn’t, on top of what’s been going on in their little East Texas town. Looks like the Otis family are a gang of alcoholics, a running familial trait. Not only that, they love making threats. “Be careful,” Sheriff Valentine warns Florida before heading out.
And Leonard, he goes to see Sneed. Catches him in the bath. Just so happens Leonard brought a bit of salt, a radio; to get the conductivity going for when he tosses the thing in – except the unsuspecting officer doesn’t realise it’s a battery-powered radio. He also grabs a handful of Sneed’s balls, squeezing, looking for info about Ivan. Sneed gives up information about Melton, which is where he brought the boy. Leonard goes to Melton’s, finding Ivan shot up with drugs by the nasty dealer and his friends; he brings the kid to Meemaw (Irma P. Hall) then goes to clean up the neighbourhood.
Pic 4AFlorida goes to tell Hap he needs to lay off Judge Otis, or else Leonard’s ending up behind bars. She wants him to be honest, about everything. He reveals that Moon is dead, though she knew. And a bit of honesty goes a long way to getting the two together, which Hap was leaning for since he met Florida.
While they get down, Leonard gets busy. As in molotov cocktail busy, tossing some fire into Melton’s place and watching it burn. On the roof, the box burns, too; what was in it exactly? We’ll never know, likely. Something to incriminate Leonard, and luckily Ivan chose not to leave it at Chester’s for anyone to find.
What’s most interesting? Meemaw has a photo on her mantle. One of a church, and standing in front of it is the gate to which that child’s body was tied. This is the church we saw those Klansmen attack in the opening scene. BOOM!


What a stellar followup to the second episode. Just awesome adapted writing, the characters are so vivid and intriguing. Purefoy, Williams, Mack, everyone is doing a fine job with the performances. Can’t wait for “Bad Mojo” next week! What do you think the boys will get up to? And can Florida help Leonard avoid the slammer?

Legion – Chapter 8

FX’s Legion
Chapter 8
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Noah Hawley

* For a recap & review of the penultimate Chapter, click here.
Pic 1Now that the Interrogator (Hamish Linklater) has returned, we see flashbacks to his encounter with David (Dan Stevens), his injury and subsequent recovery. At his bedside waits Daniel (Keir O’Donnell); it appears they’re partners, as well as having an adopted child together. The poor guy rests in bed, recovering, and he’s left with burns all over his body. “Theres my handsome guy,” Daniel says reassuringly, yet we’re juxtaposed with the mangled scar tissue on his partner’s face as a jarring visual. He has a Jack Nicholson’s Joker moment – except much more subdued – asking for a mirror, seeing his new face for the first time, too. Thus begins a long period of rest, trying to get better. When he gets back to work he says fuck desk duty. He’s “going to war” and finishing what was started that day at the pool.
Need to note that the visuals of the series are gorgeous and well conceived. On top of that, Jeff Russo’s score is haunting, it’s a huge part of the show’s atmosphere. Russo has done good work before, I’d vote that this is his best yet. Accompanies the psychedelic, surreal feel of Legion in such an appropriate way. The music has such an ’80s feeling at times that it’s wonderfully throwback.
Now the Interrogator and his SWAT members have David, Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), Syd (Rachel Keller), all of them at gunpoint. Ready to die. Except David disagrees, using his powers to make a human totem of the SWAT team. Instead of letting Ptonomy shoot the Interrogator, David takes the time to build bridges instead of burn them. Problem is, Daniel and everyone back at D3 are watching through the eye of the Interrogator.
Pic 1AAnd worse, David worries that schizophrenia still grips him. That everything happening is an elaborate dream. Syd tries convincing him either he accepts his powers are real, or else they’ll never get out of the trouble they’re in.
David: “Im so sick of myself. This only works if its not about me.”
At Summerland, Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) tries to wrangle everyone together, as Cary (Bill Irwin) keeps an eye on David’s halo. She wants to find out more about D3 with the Interrogator in their keep. The halo, however, is losing juice. They’ve got to figure out what to do; about the Shadow King, Farouk, that Devil with the Yellow Eyes. And fucking Lenny (Aubrey Plaza), still talking. Always talking. Then there’s Cary and Kerry (Amber Midthunder), fighting over what happened between them on the astral plane, and she is pissed. A lot of tension happening.
Melanie’s also distraught over the situation with Oliver (Jemaine Clement), who still can’t remember her. They agree to have dinner together, she hopes he’ll soon remember. Sad to watch her essentially left behind by him, albeit not intentional. Either way, she has the Interrogator – he says his name’s Clark – with whom she must deal. He mostly has threats for her. Doesn’t faze Dr. Bird: “You better learn to fly like a bird because the age of the dinosaur is over.”


So Clark’s sat down with David, who seems more in control than ever. Which is less comforting, more scary than I expected. “You dont have to be afraid,” he tells Clark, over and over and over. Then things start getting strange. Syd finds herself in more of the dream world, faced with a creepy, decaying Lenny, appearing to her as the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, its true form. She has to face the evil down, and she does – explaining how they’re cutting it out, like doctors do with a tumour; cut it out, burn it. Only Lenny says she’s a part of David now. To get her out, David must go, as well.
Clark: “Youre gods, and someday youre gonna wake up and realise you dont need to listen to us anymore.”
David: “Isnt that the history of the world? People of different nations, different languages learning to live together?”
Poor David goes weak. Syd explains to Clark about the parasite, what it is and how they plan on ridding David of it. I wonder, will this guy succumb and help? Regardless of that, all the while D3 is listening holding the Peacemaker at bay, for the time being.
With Clark back in holding with Kerry, the others go to work on David – Oliver, specifically. He and Cary detect a second set of brain waves within their subject’s head. Hopefully they can fix it while leaving David’s mind intact. As Pink Floyd and Tom Stoppard plays, they work away, and David flashes back through memories in his past, Lenny struggling harder and harder inside to get out.
David’s lost in a sea of memory, right back to being an infant. And the Devil with the Yellow Eyes lurks right behind. He confronts it, calling Lenny out from within. He wonders of his identity, without Lenny. Who and what he is without that part of him. “Are you my phantom?” he asks. “What happens to me when you’re gone?” Like a child, first dealing with the prospect of life without their imaginary friend. Then the parasite chokes David, trying to kill him. Can he survive without Farouk? Must he die?


Doing the unthinkable, Syd tries saving David by kissing him on the lips. Transferring the parasite into herself. Oh, shit. Off come the gloves, both figuratively and literally. Going from Syd to Kerry, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes uses her ass kicking skills to start a lot of trouble. Even Clark tries to stop it before getting tossed aside like trash.
Then we have a face off between Kerry possessed and David, healthy, powerful again. They fly at one another with full speed and power, blowing each other back. And Oliver, he winds up in the way of things. While the Summerland facility is in chaos, he walks out and drives off on his own. Right after he’d just remembered his wife, too. A sad, unexpected consequence of David’s battle with Farouk.


On the road, Oliver rides with Lenny shotgun. Another powerful mind latched onto by the nasty parasite. What’s going to happen next? Who knows. One thing’s for sure, Season 2 is going to be wild, in all sorts of ways. Also a great inclusion of “Children of the Revolution” by T Rex in the last scene. Beauty way to close out an awesome season!
An after credits scene sees David tracking Lenny and Oliver, knowing they’re headed south. They’re also visited by a strange orb. It scans David, then sucks him inside. Carrying him off elsewhere. WHOOOA!
Pic 4Pic 4ACannot wait for next year. This was one of the best series to have premiered in years, honestly. Lots of good stuff out there, but Noah Hawley is on another level. Between this and Fargo? One of TV’s auteurs, for certain.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 2: “Ticking Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Abe Sylvia

* For a recap & review of the Season 2 premiere, “Mucho Mojo” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Holy Mojo” – click here
Pic 1Young Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon) wakes in the bed at Leonard’s (Michael K. Williams) place, a bit disoriented and rightfully scared. Then he runs into the old man from the van. He chases the boy, but Ivan gets the jump on him. The old man finds something hidden in a vent on the wall, like an old lunchbox.
Ivan escapes then waits in the weeds for a chance to run. Only he can’t once a bag is thrown over his head and he’s whisked off.
Pic 1ALeonard’s in jail, of course. Fingered in a lineup by Melton (Sedale Threatt Jr), who got pissed on last time by Mr. Pine. He meets with his attorney Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) and Hap (James Purefoy). Things don’t look great. They’re okay, for now. Except he’s got to ride out the weekend in jail. The police are also flooded with lots of black women, looking for their missing children, wanting to know more about the investigation. Heartbreaking and tragic.
Florida and Hap try to rally the mothers, all of them knowing the police aren’t doing anything for the missing kids. So it’s another case of Hap being placed in a position to help; both the community and his best friend Leonard. However, the mothers all reveal that Chester Pine came to them in a suspicious way, every last one remembering his name. Very troubling. We discover Chester put Florida through law school. Huh! Then again, as she notes: “Thats what they do.” As in those who prey on children.
One of the officers interviews Leonard, along with a sac of oranges, a hammer, some books. Old torture techniques. In the meantime, Hap tries to get in to see his buddy with some Nilla wafers. He’s too drunk. And Leonard takes a hard beating before Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) stops the psychopath cop.
Pic 2At a black church Hap shows up to sit with Florida, stopping the congregation in their tracks. She refuses, so Meemaw lets him have a seat in her pew. Hilarious to see him clap with no rhythm next to all those happy, celebrating black worshippers. Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood) preaches about the sheriff’s department not helping. And right then Sheriff Valentine (Brian Dennehy) strolls in to take the pulpit. He and Judge Beaut Otis stand up there together, Valentine talks about trying build bridges, blah, blah, blah. Nobody’s buying it; not the congregation, not Hap, either.
Meemaw (pointing to Hap): “You see that man standinthere? That is the only white man I like.”
Otis: “What about Jesus?”
Meemaw: “Jesus wasn’t white
In his cell, Leonard gets a visit from a creepy old man. Is he the man from the van? He does some voodoo stuff, sprinkling a line of salt in front of the cell. He hands over a book. One about cowboys, from Leonard’s childhood. Inside are hollowed out pages containing a chicken’s foot. Next day is court. No bail for Leonard and a trial in six weeks. Judge Otis is definitely one of the racists running things behind the scenes in East Texas.
The bombshell? Otis is the one who ran down Mr. Collins and Mr. Pine on that dark, rainy road. Holy fuck. Hap now has something he can hold over the judge’s head to get Leonard out on bail.


With Leonard out, Florida and Hap try to get him laying low. He isn’t happy. Worse still, he doesn’t like that they’re leaning towards Chester being involved in some shady shit. Either way the truth is coming out. Whether it’s a truth Leonard can handle dealing with is another story. But he packs up and gets ready. Meanwhile, Raoul is worried about Ivan. This leads Leonard to discovering his broken cowboy that’s been there since he was 9; the one Ivan smashed on the man’s head. This and the pennies on the windowsill, a chicken foot hanging from the ceiling, all leads them to a man named Elia Moon – the eerie old man, who also spends quite a deal of time near children.
Off go our two brave self-made detectives. They find a shack up in the woods, booby trapped, the entire place covered in dead animals and skins. They stumble onto the old man hiding in a closet. He’s been waiting. An odd duck, though seemingly harmless. He says Chester was actually trying to figure out the mystery of the missing boys before he died.
At the same time, it’s revealed Melton is the one holding Ivan. And he wants the boy to hide something at Chester’s house.


Over at home Leonard sees Ivan is back, acting like nothing’s wrong. Later, Raoul also reveals to Leonard he’s been seeing somebody. Upstairs, the kid a box Melton gave him: is there incriminating evidence inside? I’d bet on it.
Hap gives an alibi for Leonard in 1986. They were seeing a Howard Hawks double feature: The Big Sleep and Red River. Or y’know, that’s what he says. “Devotion” as Florida puts it.
Back at Elia’s place the old man is worried about “bad mojo” in the air, as all his hung up beer bottles start falling from their strings and smashing all over the ground. An omen? It sends Elia off in a rush. He sees a vision of a little black boy, covered in blood. Right before he drives into the river. Another blow to the case for Leonard.
Pic 5Just a perfect followup to the first episode in Season 2! SO MUCH MOJO.
Bring it on, baby. Give me more.

Hap and Leonard – Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”

SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard
Season 2, Episode 1: “Mucho Mojo”
Directed by Maurice Marable
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Eskimos” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Ticking Mojo” – click here
Pic 1AThere’s a dark secret buried, one that Hap Collins (James Purefoy) and Leonard Pine (Michael K. Williams) will soon stumble upon. This season we open on someone disposing of a young person’s body, tying them, then dumping their corpse in a lake. Terrible things go on unseen. But it doesn’t take long for them to emerge for all to see.
Back again to the world of the ever fantastic Joe Lansdale!
Hap’s picked up the remains of Trudy; ash in a box. And while he loved her, that’s one less giant mess in his life. Everything for him is messy, from relationships to his piece of shit car door. He gets by for now working as a mechanic. In other news, Leonard’s at home getting a hard back massage from his boyfriend Raoul. He’s got problems with neighbours, too. Nothing that a cane can’t stop, or a bit of piss in the face. What I love about Leonard is he’s gay and black in the late ’80s, so there are bound to be more situations that arise from that, living in the South and all. A little later, he steps through a floorboard in his dead uncle’s old place: now he’s found the secrets long ago covered up, forgotten about.


Leonard: “The dead dont give a shit about what happen toemtheyre dead.”
The two friends go digging under Chester’s floorboards more, inspecting the skeleton they’ve found. It’s a child, a small one.  Same sneakers as the one dragged from the lake. Now Leonard wonders if his uncle knew, especially considering how long Chester lived there and how decomposed the body is currently. So, what next?
A kid runs off with Trudy’s ashes, sending Hap and Leonard on a chase. Then the box gets tossed into a garbage truck driving past. Instead of letting it get away, Leonard stops the truck to get Trudy back.
The boys alert the police to the body under Chester’s house, which marks the place as a crime scene. But you just know them two are gonna get up to something soon enough. The old lady across the street doesn’t believe Chester had anything to do with the body, though the police – Detective Hanson (Cranston Johnson) in particular – are investigating with suspicion. And someone in a van lurks around the neighbourhood. Very likely the one responsible for that body’s existence.
Leonard talks with Dt. Hanson at the precinct, as Hap talks with another detective. Some uncomfortable conversation comes up when Hanson says “you people” enjoy little kids; he means homosexuals. Nasty. Likewise, Hap faces scrutiny about his status as a conscientious objector during Vietnam, all the mess they got into with Trudy and the rest of her friends. After all that they discover there were no feet or hands or sneakers on the body. Was this the work of the man in the van? Hmm. Either way, a lawyer named Florida Grange (Tiffany Mack) arrives to help the boys in their predicament.
Florida: “Dont underestimate mecause Im beautiful, Mr. Collins.”
Pic 2I love watching Hap watch Leonard and Florida pass the hot sauce between each other, putting a load on their food. Such a perfect look, as he tries to get himself a taste and they just keep on shaking the bottle.
After food they start picking through the mystery in their neighbourhood. Meemaw across the street offers what little help she can. Hap and Leonard keep an eye on Chester’s place from hers, and they also have a heart to heart about Trudy. In the morning they meet Reverend Fitzgerald (Dohn Norwood), who does a bit of preaching, though neither Hap nor Leonard are too interested in religion. He talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, fittingly foolish with a proud gay man at the table.
When Leonard goes over to check on his house, he finds Ivan (Olaniyan Thurmon), the kid who stole the ashes. He’s nearly dead from an overdose. Unable to locate the kid’s parents, Raoul convinces Leonard to take care of the boy for now in their place, to which he very reluctantly agrees.
One of the detectives goes to meet Hap at the garage where he works. He wants to know more about the sneakers they saw on the body. On top of that he’s suspicious of Leonard being a “darkie” and all. And you know are man doesn’t approve of that shit, so he dismisses the detective rather fast.
Pic 4Trying to dump Trudy’s ashes off a bridge, Hap drops the box in the river. Like the man he is he goes in after it diligently. Then he scatters them onto the water around him, soaking in Trudy, and strangely happy.
At home, Leonard puts Ivan to bed. When he takes the boys shoes off he sees his name written on them, similar to the BB on the red sneakers. Suspicious? Or nothing at all? Either way, right now Leonard’s being taken in by police. Great, now Hap’s going to have to get his ass in gear while his friend is locked up behind bars.
And outside the house sits the man in the van, watching. Who is he?


What a spectacular start to Season 2! Love, love, love this series. Lansdale’s writing, his characters, the atmosphere, it is all palpable in the adaptation by Damici and Mickle.

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.

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.

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)