Nastassja Kinski

Cat People

Amid the American horror boom of the late-1970s and early-1980s, when everything old was new again and once-dormant studio properties like Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe Thing from Another World, and The Fly were suddenly valuable franchises, the script for a remake of Cat People, one of the most subtle of all horror classics, somehow ended up on Paul Schrader’s desk. Why Schrader? Dumb luck, mostly. Certainly he had no great love for the source material, a 1942 horror film directed by [...]

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Nastassja Kinski

Tess

In the annals of feel-bad literature, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a corker, pitting natural beauty and goodness against a battery of opposing forces–the church, the aristocracy, modern technology, human avarice–and finding beauty debased. It was a loaded area of study for Roman Polanski, who adapted it as a Hollywood artist in exile, working in France rather than nearer the book’s setting of Wessex, England, for fear of his deportation to the U.S. on rape charges. Just as Polanski’s bloody Macbeth has [...]

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Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel, a robot, and Farrah Fawcett

Saturn 3

There are bad movies and there are tantalizingly bad movies, and Saturn 3 is the latter–the type of bad movie that tickles the imagination and demands an explanation. On first blush, there’s nothing unusual about it. Released in 1980, it was clearly trading on the post-Star Wars mania for sci-fi movies. The casting of Farrah Fawcett, at the time a big star, was a reasonable commercial gambit. And the release of Alien a year earlier certainly explained the idea of a monster movie set in [...]

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Klaus Kinski

Crawlspace

I’m pretty much on board with a horror movie about a creepy landlord who stalks his college-aged tenants, waging a low-level terror campaign against them by deliberately releasing pests into their living spaces. If he’s a sadist and a serial killer who keeps souvenirs of his victims (by which I mean body parts in jars), that just seems to go with the territory. If he’s also a hardcore Nazi sympathizer with a daddy fixation and a concentration-camp victim locked up [...]

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pod

John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness

The first of two low-budget films that John Carpenter wrote pseudonymously and directed in and around downtown Los Angeles in the late-1980s, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness is one of the creepiest movies ever made. Underrated at the time by critics who called it “cheesy” (Vincent Canby) and said “[it] stinks” (Richard Harrington), Prince of Darkness was clearly made fast and on the cheap, and it’s roughly crafted by Carpenter standards. Still, it’s a triumph of mood. Filling out a [...]

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00274

Autumn Sonata

By 1978, Ingmar Bergman was in trouble. The director had fled his native Sweden two years earlier after an arrest on charges of tax evasion. (He would be completely exonerated in 1979, but his mood was no doubt grim until then.) He visited Paris and Los Angeles, then settled in Munich, where he would shoot his first English-language film, the 1920s Berlin-set The Serpent’s Egg, a Dino de Laurentiis co-production co-starring David Carradine and Bergman stalwart Liv Ullmann. The Serpent’s [...]

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Adrienne Barbeau and Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing

Do you find monster movies that revolve around damsels, décolletage, and men in phony rubber suits pathetic or endearing? If the latter, you may well find room in your heart for Swamp Thing, an old-fashioned creature feature that already seemed anachronous when it hoisted itself up out of the mud of early-1980s genre cinema. As movies like Alien, Altered States, and Scanners put a grim, often grotesque spin on ideas about biological transformation, Wes Craven–surely one of the grimmest of [...]

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Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Mia Kirshner and Don McKellar in Exotica

Exotica

When Exotica debuted at Cannes in 1994, Atom Egoyan had already earned a reputation for curious, low-key explorations of memory and alienation. His Family Viewing, Speaking Parts, and The Adjuster leaned on video as a kind of metaphor showing how relationships become dependent on individual frames of reference that each move in only one direction — how one person’s blank tape is another’s cherished memory, or how one person’s pornographic display is another’s lifeline. Exotica represented Egoyan’s commercial breakthrough in part because he found an enticing venue for those observations. It’s one of the most fundamentally despairing movies that I know, and yet there is in the precision of its craft, the bravery of its conception, and the depth of its empathy something fundamentally uplifting.

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Still from You're Next

You’re Next

At a certain point about a third of the way into the home invasion thriller You’re Next, in which a wry indie comedy about a dysfunctional family gathering is interrupted by a wry indie slasher picture, a meathead sitting in the row in front of me started applauding. It was a slow clap. On screen, a man wearing a lamb mask had just punched a woman, hard, the force of his blow pushing her through a window. The meathead chuckled appreciatively before putting his hands together for the psycho. The woman crawled on the broken glass until the man in the mask pushed the sole of his boot into the top of her head, his axe following the arc of a golf swing before finding its mark. The meathead tittered delightedly about this and muttered something that I chose to ignore.

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Netflix Doesn’t Care About Movies

Why We Still Need Blu-ray

We were entertaining at Deep Focus World Headquarters the other night. We had a friend over — not just a fan of oddball cinema (you should have seen her face light up when she spotted my Blu-ray copy of Lifeforce) but also a certified lover of accordion music. We didn’t have time to go full Holy Motors, but we did decide it would be fun to screen just the amazing Entracte, in which Denis Levant leads a band of accordionists through a church. Since I’m lazy, I dialed the movie up on Netflix instead of leaving the couch to hit the Blu-ray library. And as I was scanning forward through the movie, saying something like, “I don’t know why I even buy Blu-ray Discs anymore,” I noticed something very odd.

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Q

Q

Writer-director Larry Cohen makes exploitation look easy. His iconic Black Caesar was basically a remake of Little Caesar with a black cast; his mutant-baby flick It’s Alive amplified the generational rift created in families by the social revolutions of the 1960s and early-1970s to horror-movie proportions. Cohen is so commercially savvy that his screenwriting career has continued, in earnest, into the 21st century, placing projects like Phone Booth, Cellular, and Captivity at the Venn-diagram intersection between high-concept appeal and low-budget [...]

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Keri Russell

Dark Skies

Dark Skies has the kernel of a really interesting genre twist — parts of it play like a retelling of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a coming-of-age story from the point of view of an adolescent whose indulgence of hormonal urges manifests in part through a willingness to be abducted by aliens — where instead of a henpecked Richard Dreyfuss abdicating family responsibilities by boarding that mothership, its a horny teenager leaving the nest. Unfortunately, Dark Skies is not quite that movie, opting instead for a variation on haunted-house tropes anchored by a pair of dipshit suburban parents whose ever-so-slowly dawning reaction to supernatural phenomenon dates to the kind of 70s movies this pays homage to — The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and of course the aforementioned CE3K. Seriously, Dark Skies told from the teenager’s point of view could be the horror-movie response to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 Spielberg pastiche. The film we got is more of a mess, but I’m glad I saw it — mainly because of my fondness for the movie that I’d like it to be.

Still from The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola’s metier is the direction of seemingly unguarded moments — a girl lounges in pink sweatpants, a boy grins dorkily as he bounces up and down on a dance floor, teenagers play dress-up and go gun crazy — so the more this strained to be on point with its observations about stalker culture and celebrity status, the less I liked it. Still, as a snapshot of a world gone crazy circa A.D. 2013, its verisimilitude is mostly undeniable, and it’s still a bit invigorating when movie girls are allowed to have the kind of disreputable fun the movie boys have always taken for granted.

Coppola has plundered young Hollywood for talent — cinematographer Wally Pfister’s daughter Claire Julien is here, as is Vera Farmiga’s (much) younger sister Taissa and even the actress (Georgia Rock) who, at 7 years old, was chosen to be the vaguely creepy drummer girl in the motion-graphic logo for Mandate Pictures (you may have seen her in front of The Purge last week) — and the actors are all just about exactly as good as they need to be to keep the endeavor afloat. Emma Watson has obvious fun playing a Calabasas girl with Beverly Hills pretensions, and Coppola pulls off the pretty good balancing act of making her characters thoroughly despicable and yet not completely unlikable — the quick glare that crestfallen Israel Broussard shoots at a passing pair of pink pumps when the jig is finally up is kind of heartbreaking.

Comparisons to Spring Breakers are both unavoidable and legitimate, though it’s hard to measure a straightforward narrative film directly against Harmony Korine’s dreamier, more deliberately anhedonic work. In its portrayal of the short history of a tiny fallen empire, The Bling Ring is most evocative of Coppola’s own Marie Antoinette. Kirsten Dunst even drifts through one scene, a lovely ghost — and, for those of us who don’t even know who the hell Audrina Patridge is, a spectral reminder of how quickly and decisively youth culture moves forward.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy

Before Midnight

Your prize for making it through the first half of this film, with its dreary prandial conversation about life, letters, and the transient nature of everything, is the second half of this film, with its lengthy emotional negotiation held on the precipice of oblivion. The performances are so finely delivered that they appear nearly effortless, as though these two are merely playing themselves on screen, so many years on. The dialogue is so illuminating, even lacerating in its fine detail, that it can make you wince. This long, climactic capper to Linklater’s trilogy (what’s he going to call the fourth film? Up All Night?) obviously represents an attempt on the part of the director and his actorly co-scripters to assay the earthbound resentment and pettiness that sneak eventually into fairy-tale relationships, but the effort works on such a primal level that It’s hard not to take sides. Me, I was rooting for poor Céline to haul off and smack that self-satisfied grin off Jesse’s wisecracking face. You may well feel differently. Finally, it doesn’t matter — when it comes to playing favorites, the film is on Team Céline and Team Jesse. But it knows both its characters well enough that it’s clearly fretting over what happens next.

feat-lifeforce

Lifeforce

The early 1980s must have been a weird time to be Tobe Hooper. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had made him one of the most notorious directors in the world, and Poltergeist vaulted him onto the A-list. He would have been on top of the world if not for an extended controversy over that film: Poltergeist was produced by Steven Spielberg, and there were widespread rumors that he actually directed it, too. Hooper denied it and Spielberg issued oddly-worded statements [...]

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Evil Dead

Mean Girls

The Evil Dead Goes to Detox and Loses Its Edge

The Evil Dead gets unnecessarily updated in the debut feature film by director Fede Alvarez, who remakes the Sam Raimi original in contempo style. Alvarez’s version disposes of Raimi’s trademark sentimentality, replacing the young lovers at the heart of the first film with more worldly siblings, as big brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) heads out to that cabin in the woods among friends, determined to help his sister Mia (Jane Levy) detox after a near-death experience. When dumb buddy Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) starts reciting demonic incantations aloud in the basement, Mia’s harrowing withdrawal symptoms make perfect cover for her possession by formerly slumbering supernatural forces.

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Tommy Lee Jones

Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder‘s reputation was burnished considerably in the 1990s when Quentin Tarantino declared it one of his favorite films. It’s a good call; Tarantino owes his career to his long-standing love affair with the grindhouse, and Rolling Thunder is in many ways the quintessence of Hollywood exploitation. Director John Flynn, who made a name for himself with his 1973 adaptation of a Donald E. Westlake novel, The Outift, comes across as an efficient, focused storyteller who pares narrative to the [...]

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Still from Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away

Not Fade Away doesn’t have an opening scene–it has an overture. You could almost call it a mash-up. After a brief snippet of TV footage showing New Jersey boys Joey Dee and the Starliters performing their 1962 hit “Peppermint Twist,” the image is replaced by an old RCA “Indian Head” test pattern superimposed with the words “Please Stand By” as a voice announces a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. After the familiar emergency-alert tone starts buzzing away for a [...]

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Anna Karina

Band of Outsiders

For the casual observer, Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders may as well be titled The Eyes of Anna Karina. The famously radical director’s follow-up to the hit film Contempt isn’t a favourite of American movie buffs for its politics or its thematic rigour. Instead, it’s a veritable spoof of film noir–at times a near-farce–involving a couple of small-time schemers who take their cues from Hollywood. Though Band of Outsiders is thought of as one of Godard’s most accessible works, it’s [...]

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