Thursday, January 12, 2017

Unpredictability, always preferred (sorry I didn’t hate 2016) … films and music

Every year, when viewed as a 12-month chunk, is a summation of losses and gains. Sometimes one outweighs the other, and sometimes, losses v. gains as measured by the populace at large tell a very different story than when measured by the individual. I didn’t end 2016 shaking my fist at the heavens for taking away some single-named musical greats; I had more, very personal reasons for both wrath and gratitude toward the year that was, not least of all the movies and music on the accompanying list.

In cinema, I always want to be surprised, shocked, and to have my expectations confounded, even dashed. This is precisely what keeps me passionate about film post-1980—otherwise, I’d just be watching my Michael Findlay and Jean Rollin favorites over and over. It’s movies like Cub, Victoria, and Lake Nowhere that cause me to continually take chances on contemporary cinema, while many others are content to mutter, “Conjuring 2 was pretty good.” No. No it wasn’t. Not nearly good enough.

Cub Let me take a wild stab here and guess that many, nay the majority reading this, have suffered the stigma of being the “weird kid,” with troubles the group didn’t want to bother to understand. Well, here is your triumph. This visually exquisite and tight thriller about a Belgian scout troop on a French holiday pulls no punches (animal abuse, multiple child deaths, gory endings for both male and female adults) and yet boasts a rounded, satisfying conclusion that will somehow have you (or I should say, had me) applauding that someone made a wholly original horror film with a continually surprising story that goes nowhere you’ll expect, and yet ends somewhere that makes absolute sense and will satisfy most viewers. You’ll feel like you “watched something” after Cub, and if you’re at all like me your mind will resonate with its images and shocks. Add to that the marriage of an artful and well-paced electronic score by Steve Moore, and this one is pretty unmissable.

Victoria A single-shot film, and Russian Ark it ain’t. A drama/action thriller, slyly tense from the get-go, Victoria tells the story of the eponymous heroine, a cafe worker from out-of-country, and one night in Berlin she spends with a charming, albeit thuggish, group of guys who end up needing her help direly. By morning, nothing will ever be the same. Victoria is a harrowing film experience, pretty much seizing the very definition of “thriller.” Fans of The Shield will remember how it felt to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the actors as grimy drug houses had their doors kicked in, and the camera in Victoria behaves in much the same way—you’re with this crew of unfortunate unprofessionals, as heists go panicked and awry, bullets fly overhead or just nearby, and death and disaster loom. I’ve already said too much.

The Corpse of Anna Fritz Ever seen a necrophilia/revenge movie? This one may be the first. Though The Corpse of Anna Fritz is played for tense thrills, (dead) serious all the way, after two viewings I couldn’t help but take away a “comedy” vibe from this Spanish oddity, simply because the bad decisions made by the trio of male characters escalates so unbelievably quickly, I felt like the devil on their shoulder laughing at them as they take the slippy slide into hell. Let me be clear: you have to be ok with corpsefucking (simulated, movie-style) to watch this movie; what’s depicted is brutal, no question, but just when that brutality is beginning to utterly sicken you, that’s when the unexpected gets rolling, and roll it does. A wild ride, and I’m glad I watched it twice.

The Witch Mainstream? Yes. Many of you reading this will have already seen it? Sure. But The Witch (or VVitch) warrants inclusion here simply because it is one of the best horror films made within the last 20 years. Director Robert Eggers held back his idea, until he could find investors that were willing to shell out for 17th-century-authentic fence posts, and that dedication to an idea, that creative passion, well in this case it’s a winner because it meticulously creates a world where you are lifted out of your theater seat or off your couch into absolute New-England-settlement realism, a time when witches were very real in the minds of the faithful, and the garden-variety horrible (like dead crops, disease, death and hunger) happened with regularity. Did I mention the allegory of feminine coming-of-age, and its “threat” to a good, Puritan family? That’s there too, The VVitch spares no one, and no awful possibility, for a family literally just trying to survive in the New World. Nothing that happens is expected, or even pleasant, but as the film concludes, you may be moved to spontaneous applause, and will definitely feel like, “goddamn, I watched a MOVIE there.” Indispensable, for both horror geeks and mainstream cineastes.

Crush The Skull It’s important to me every year to dig for the gold, to find those little films that are well made, often despite smaller budgets, because the acting, dialogue, situations, and most importantly the ideas are all solidly in place. You won’t understand the title until the very end, and it’d be a shame for me to ruin that moment for you. What I can say is that Crush The Skull is about a group of amateur thieves who case and choose the wrong house for robbery—the abode of a serial killer and captive torturer—and what sets it far apart from box-office boomer Don’t Breathe, that plot aside, is measurable; not only did Crush The Skull come first, but it’s fuckin’ funny, often hilarious. It’s horror-comedy, without any doubt, when severed heads still speak, and the moves of the killer(s?) are far from perfect, especially when one considers Hollywood’s record of flawlessness and omniscience when it comes to serial murderers. Great writing, fun cast, dynamite opening scene, so many good things to say about Crush The Skull, but just see it.

Green Room Here we go with another mainstream film that many of you reading will have probably seen already, but it’s that resonance, that “makes you think about stuff” quality, that helped Green Room bump a few perhaps lesser-known titles off of this list. Director Jeremy Saulnier (and in no small part actor/co-producer Macon Blair) impressed the hell out of me with their first joint effort, Blue Ruin, an ultra-twisted, modern Hatfields/McCoys bummerfest, and Green Room finds that team with more money, bigger-name talent, and a wholly different story to tell, that of some luckless punk rockers who end up witnessing a murder at a skinhead club, a gig they took out of desperation in the first place. From there, the whole house of cards tumbles, lots of characters you’ll like die horribly, and Patrick Stewart puts in an evil, nonchalant turn as the white-supremacist group leader. The ending to Green Room is equal parts bleak and triumphant, and anyone who hasn’t seen it at this reading might want to hop on, because I, among many others, eagerly await seeing what Saulnier et al. will produce next.

Darling A difficult proposition perhaps for some, because Darling is a contemporary re-imagining of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, which so many of us know and love, but for me Darling does so with aplomb, hitting all the right notes at all the right times. Trading Paris for NY’s upper crust, blonde for brunette (the lovely and hypnotic Lauren Ashley Carter), and the slow descent into madness for supernatural/Satanic forces that may be controlling the show in this most-ritzy of Manhattan dwellings, Darling plays like a dream director Mickey Keating must have had about Repulsion, like that room that’s not your room but it is, and though the elemental parts are basically the same, stroboscopic/hallucinatory effects, supernatural rumbles, whispers, and Satanic messages carved into locked doors take the place of a rotten rabbit carcass on a plate, and cruel ladies at the beauty parlor. Darling is a cool film, and I recommend even skeptics give it a chance. It all ends up “nicely” with a song by My Castle of Quiet regulars Harassor.

Plague Town Ahh, Ireland. I’m such an Eire-o-phile that sometimes it hurts, but I wouldn’t want to be this hapless American family, who on a search for some ancestral roots, at first seem like they’re traipsing into predictable horror terrain, primed to be picked off one-by-one, but no, this town, aptly named, has other plans for some of them, and the combination of graphic gore, woodsy ritual magic, and the suggestion of birth deformities and inbreeding is positively creepy. That’s it, this little gem is ultra creepy, there are scenes that will make you squirm, and it’s clear the filmmakers had about two dimes to scrape together, but again, ideas, ideas, ideas—that is and always will be what good horror movies are all about—not bodycounts, not backwoods chases, not cliché after cliché, and homage after homage à la Rob Zombie. Plague Town is clever, and shockingly violent; a little tale of the Irish countryside that sits comfortably among the more puffed-up productions on this list.

Lake Nowhere Goddamn these people had fun. Lake Nowhere looks and feels like a rented, abused VHS from a crappy neighborhood video store (remember those?), and that effect (complete with mock trailers) could damn a film to dismissible corniness, but in Lake Nowhere, every piece of the puzzle fits beautifully, and its smartly concise 55-min. runtime will feel like a full meal. Even the premise threatens to underwhelm, as a group of a half-dozen or so friends retreat to a lake house (!) for some partying, r & r, etc.—BUT JUST YOU WAIT! One guy takes too long of a dip in the nearby lake and he comes back er, somewhat beyond life and death, and bloody, bloody violence ensues. To tell you any more would be criminal, but Lake Nowhere ends up as one of the subtlest, most-disturbing and memorable horror journeys I took this year.

The Duke of Burgundy Ah! The struggles of the Dom. No one understands. Well, now you can, in this perfectly hung fruit of a 60s-70s period piece, by director Peter Strickland. This might as well have been made in 1972, played on a double bill with something like Straight on Till Morning, the recreation of production design and most importantly the mood of that era are so palpable. In a palatial home, two beautiful women, one a bit younger, play out a tightrope-walk of a romantic/sexual dynamic that’s pretty much tense from the very first scene. Look deep into the crotch of those suffocating but oh-so-wonderfully seamed black stockings, because what’s there isn’t exactly as pretty as you’d like, and involves enormous compromise, patience and exhaustion. Ultra clever and otherworldly in its perfection.

Mystic Inane - ass't 7"s | Scumripper -s/t | Dry Insides - all | Cape of Bats - Violent Occultism, etc. | Wounds - III | Nordwind/Order of the White Hand - split | Muerte - all | James Harlow - s/t | Prison Moan - Parasite Hole | Pink Mass - SLVT KVLT | Steve Moore - Cub OST | Obduktio - s/t | Moros - Life Assisted Suicide | Vlk - Of Wolves' Blood | Total Abuse - Excluded | Graves at Sea - The Curse That Is | The Repos - Poser | Wet Ones - s/t | KK Null - Plasmagma | Cadaver Eyes - Class Mammal | Absolute Power - s/t | Alkerdeel - Lede | Hostium - The Bloodwine of Satan | Cherubs - 2 Ynfynyty + Fist in the Air | Verminaard - Wardens of a Light-Starved Realm | Haxen - s/t | Null & Void - The Immeasurable Dark | Slave House - s/t | Nurse - s/t | Crowhurst - II | Ustalost - The Spoor of Vipers | True Love - Meditating Through Illusion | Bleak - No Light, No Tunnel | Lead Sprinkler - Ne Pas Peindre Le Diable Sur Le Mer | The Gate - Live! | Finished - Cum Inside Me Bro | SIRE - s/t demo | OPPONENTS - Blood on the Streets | Vasculae - Head Against Wall | Istidraj - Metafizika | Street Sects - End Position | Thanatoloop - Torturadortorturado | Misery Ritual - I Hurt Because I Must | Our Place of Worship Is Silence - The Embodiment of Hate | Alexandra Atnif - 2CD | Jackie Ransom - Final Exposure | Architeuthis Dux - Submergence | Beheat Gorum de Mentheurd - The Voyage of Life | Orodruin/Old Tower - split | Virginia Creep - s/t EP | Uniform - Ghosthouse | Basarabian Hills - Groping To a Misty Spread | Lord Time - Mandatory Human Livestock Reduction | Sovereign - In The Abyss of My Soul | IDES - Born To Run In Place | Haare - Regression + Meditations | Narcos - White Dog | Hatchers - The Riverward Suite | Âmes Sanglantes - Human Pillar

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