Possessor

95/100

Possessor opens with a glossy murder sequence that seems to be the jumping-off point for a glossy techno-thriller. The killer is revealed to be an assassin who operates by taking over the minds of working-class stiffs who are in a position to be close enough to various VIPs to carry out quick hits. Each unlucky prole chews on a bullet as the possessor controlling their actions blinks out of the equation and returns to her own body. Having established the kind of killer premise that an enterprising show-runner could use as fodder for two, maybe three seasons of a Netflix original, the film gets restless and almost immediately veers into uncharted territory, as the apparently imperturbable killer Tasya Vos (tough, wiry and tender Andrea Riseborough) reveals herself to be distracted by concerns over her disintegrated family life–and perhaps unfit to fight back when one of her meat puppets, a rank-and-file big-tech employee named Colin (Christopher Abbott), manages to rebel against her control.

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Total Recall

75/100

Before watching Studiocanal’s new restoration of the 30-year-old science-fiction adventure Total Recall, I had only vague memories of seeing it on opening night. I mean, I remembered that I hated it, but I wasn’t sure why. I was already a Paul Verhoeven fan based on RoboCop, though I didn’t know anything else about his work. I know I was put off by the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger puts a bullet in a woman’s head and then yuks it up with one of his trademark murder jokes. Sure, the screenplay has taken pains to establish the character’s unforgivable duplicity, but that’s the problem: She’s disposable, and she’s a punchline. (No wonder Sharon Stone jumped at the chance to play a serial murderer of men in Verhoeven’s next film.) And I recall that I was annoyed beyond reason by the film’s climax, which involves a very sudden change to the environment on Mars. The science behind it struck me as insultingly preposterous. Still, I think what I really objected to, what actually offended me, was the light tone. After RoboCop, which struck me as an appropriately sick joke about fascist tendencies in American law enforcement (still in the news!), I guess I expected Verhoeven to treat Philip K. Dick’s epochal ruminations on human consciousness, thought, and identity with some gravity (cf. the similarly Dick-inspired Blade Runner) instead of turning them into a wildly overblown comic-book complete with an absurdly-ripped muscleman as the self-doubting superhero at the centre of the action. That’s on me; Looking back on Total Recall after three decades, I can see it more clearly. For Verhoeven, the cartoonishness is the point.

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Requiem for a Dream

68/100
A woman undergoes shock therapy in a scene from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Few films are anywhere near as well made–as fierce and committed–as Requiem for a Dream, which stands as a 20-year-old landmark in an especially fertile era of New York indie filmmaking and one of the most expertly executed feel-bad narratives in the history of popular culture. Darren Aronofsky is a hell of a director, but he’s always been a little, well, intense for my taste. He’s got vision and passion to spare, and he clearly inspires dedication and devotion from his actors, yet I always feel there’s something critical missing from the films themselves. If π is David Lynch without an angle on the truly bizarre and Black Swan is David Cronenberg without the painful psychological acuity, then Requiem for a Dream is John Waters without the sense of humor. I know Waters is friendly with Aronofsky, but imagining him watching this in a dark theatre and positively cackling at its most painfully outré gambits is what helps get me through its pitiless final act.

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Shivers

92/100

In some sense, Shivers, a venereal horror movie that invites you to track the vectors of sexual intercourse among a group of apartment-dwellers, is a parody of a soap opera where the point is who is sleeping with whom. It’s also a spit-take on those sex-ed hygiene films that try to frighten teenagers into abstinence. Set almost entirely in a Montréal apartment complex and photographed in a jaundiced palette that leans towards yellow-green, it’s about the proliferation of parasites that make their way from body to body by a variety of sickening means, transforming their hosts into insatiable sex maniacs.

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Ghost in the Shell

85/100

Ghost in the Shell is a cop movie about robots with human souls. It’s science-fiction about the human rights of artificial intelligence. And it’s a fantasy about a sexy cyborg who knows how to use a gun. It’s all of those things, and it’s a disquisition on human consciousness, a meditation on urban loneliness, and also, maybe, a poem about unrequited love. It’s extraordinary.

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The Owners

56/100

A trio of small-time crooks looking to swipe an elderly couple’s retirement savings get in over their heads in The Owners, a diverting if derivative crime drama with horror-movie undertones set in and around a single house somewhere on the English countryside. Nathan (Ian Kenny), Terry (Andrew Ellis) and Gaz (Jake Curran) are neighborhood boys who’ve gotten wind that a massive bundle of cash is stashed in a safe beneath the Victorian home shared by Richard Huggins (Sylvester McCoy) and his wife Ellen (Rita Tushingham). The trio plan to help themselves to the loot while the geezers are dining out; Maisie Williams is Nathan’s girlfriend Mary, whose unexpected arrival on the scene adds logistical and emotional complications that multiply once the Hugginses arrive home unexpectedly early.

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Lock Up

52/100

Lock Up came out in 1989, but for much of its running time it feels like it could have been made at least 15 years earlier. Shot mainly on location at a real state prison (with real prison inmates serving as extras) in Rahway, New Jersey, it isn’t exactly gritty, but it’s convincing enough.

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We Summon the Darkness

46/100

Director Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer) attempts to channel the spirit of 1988 with this amiable but overly familiar heavy-metal horror movie about a concert meet-cute between head-banging dudes and rocker chicks that turns bloody when the girls take the boys home for the evening. The screenplay by Alan Trezza draws on the so-called “Satanic panic” of the era, positing a scenario where predators trawl rock concerts for victims and a drunken game of “Never Have I Ever” is a teasing lead-in to devil worship and serial murder. The results are mildly entertaining, especially in the early going, though Trezza’s scenario exhausts itself way too quickly to fill 90 minutes of screen time. Continue reading