Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016)

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As the prospect of using the free-ticket perks of my cinema job to take friends to Avengers: Infinity War this Saturday, despite my more-or-less total absence of interest in the subject matter, looms ever closer, I figured it was time to try and catch myself somewhat up-to-speed, having only seen a couple of Iron Mans, Ant-Man (which I admit I adored) and Black Panther. In the grand scheme of the Marvel franchise, perhaps the character I’ve forever had least interest in finding out anythingabout is Captain America. I mean for God’s sake. Nevertheless, it doesn’t really seem to be about him at all, thankfully. Indeed, it’s rather just an Avengers-lite. So, frankly, why it was marketed as being his film, I don’t really get. Maybe because Thor and Hulk aren’t in it? Also, the truth is: this is not what a civil war looks like. Although it may have a vast abundance of superheroes (and Hawkeye/Black Widow, whose raisons d’être still wholly elude me), it really doesn’t have anywhere near enough, nor does it run over a long-enough period of diegetic time to warrant its subtitle, either. Accordingly, Avengers-Lite: Punch-Up in an Airport strikes me as a considerably more reasonable title.

Don’t get me wrong, from a Comolli-Narboni or, dare I invoke the name in 2018, Žižekian perspective, Avengers-Lite: Punch-Up in an Airport is worthy of consideration in order to critique Hollywood ideology with regard ethics of interventionism on the part of the US Government. Iron Man believes the Avengers, following the uncountable civilian casualties sustained in their stand-offs with various foes over the years, ought to sign themselves up to become a UN-controlled task force, tragedies surrounding their exploits signifying that their great power not only comes with great responsibility, but a desperate need for as-yet unestablished accountability. Captain America believes superheroes ought to operate with a greater degree of impunity, or at least assumed good faith without restrictions or borders, given that agendas of governing bodies change, and they may be ordered to “intervene” where no intervention is required (say, to depose a democratically elected leader in the global south) or to ignore an atrocity taking place (like the genocide or displacement of indigenous peoples). Both have compelling arguments, although both miss the unarguable fact that they remain violent and authoritarian figures of almost-universally ethnocentric ideological concerns, whose personal motivations always have and always will outweigh anything they consider greater than themselves, no matter which pieces of paper they decline or agree to sign.

Because that’s the thing: the villain of this film is someone who lost his family to the actions of the Avengers in their prior film, seeking revenge, which is largely frowned upon, despite the seeming majority of the heroes doing likewise. The team is literally called The Avengers; one would think they could appreciate the irony, even if they couldn’t extend some pathos his way. Put in the context of how many heroes weapons include blades, arrows, explosives and also it seems guns, it’s very difficult to decipher if they operate similarly to Batman, who insists on his code of “not killing,” but constantly causing / failing to prevent death, or if they actually do just aim to kill.

The screen lights up whenever Ant-Man or Spider-Man turn up, on account of being genuinely fun, although neither of them really seem to know why they’re there, and when Black Panther shows up, on account of being awesome, though I must admit I believe that is largely a retroactive thing on my part, having seen BP before AL:PUA, because I don’t think he’s afforded any personality at all, here. Indeed, it’s incredibly difficult to feel emotionally altered by anything happening. Considering how much I did enjoy the smallness of Ant-Man(no pun intended), I’m amazed and disappointed how the MCU took a series as intense as the Civil War comics were, and reduced it to something that feels just so utterly marginal.

⭐⭐1/2

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The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2018)

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(Hey, Liam Neeson: if you want to have a career based around films in which you rescue women, maybe don’t go around calling #MeToo a “witch hunt.”)

A veritable symphony of failures, The Commuter is so bad, even the end credits are a mess, unable to tell whether “stand-by” should be one word or two hyphenated, or to have any consistency at all between whether direction should be spelled with letters (“Second Assistant Director”) or numbers (“3rd Assistant Director”). Sure, I’m being pedantic, but I think it’s important to acknowledge just how widespread the problems are.

Though the problems are widespread, the film is too shallow for them to demand any in-depth analysis; it simply fails at anything and everything it tries to do. The thrills aren’t thrilling, the jokes aren’t funny, the mystery has no suspense, the special effects aren’t remotely believable, the acting is wooden, the secret baddie is glaringly obvious. The overabundance of CGI in the fight scenes make the whole thing look like a bad video game, whose disorienting speed is made all the more jarring by its contrast with the otherwise exceptionally slow pace.

Certainly the saddest element of The Commuter has to be the pitiful way in which it believes itself to be the action counterpart to I, Daniel Blake. Or at the very least, Money Monster. But how anyone expected the audience to maintain a straight face or feel in any way uplifted by watching Liam Neeson give the finger to an investment banker and deliver the immortal line, “Hey, Goldman Sachs, on behalf of the American middle class: fuck you!” I shall honestly never know.

Or maybe it’s the fact that it attempted an element of nuance by providing Liam Neeson (I’ve already forgotten everyone’s name but, honestly, who cares? It’s Liam Neeson playing Liam Neeson) with an opportunity to do what he does out of a sense of financial desperation – that maybe he’s willing to be a less-than-good-guy, because he was just fired, five years before retirement, with no safety net. However, the film can’t stand the thought of “The American Middle Class” being anything other than spotlessly clean so, within no time at all, the story reverts to the classic “they’ve (probably?) kidnapped Liam Neeson’s wife and child” and then proceeds to have his $25k incentive literally blow away, so he needn’t be saddled with anything other than his classic, unquestionable, Husband-and-Father motivation.

As the film progresses, it becomes ever more clear how little anyone knows what they’re doing, as we are provided with even more long and boring expositions we didn’t need, thickly laid reveals we already knew, and an ending that demeans us all.

Hopefully Neeson’s stupid and ugly comments will have him blacklisted from making films in Hollywood again, but I wouldn’t count on it.

 

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2018)

Okay, let’s do this.

I can’t give Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri a star rating. It exists in a realm of moral ambiguity tantamount to Schrödinger-esque quantum mechanics, as it champions disobedience on part of a citizen against a corrupt and violent police force, whilst doing no more than at best paying lip-service to the people of colour who come most in contact with police violence and at worst trying to salvage the worst offenders for a white perspective.

Three Billboards is, absolutely, exceptionally powerful in places. Repeated use of the phrase “Raped While Dying” sends emotional shockwaves, as it should. But, in a way, it’s also the problem. Mainstream Hollywood “issue films” are exceptionally wont to render questions of social justice and civil rights as wholly affect, no effect. In other words, there is no legitimate material analysis of the situation, which means that, when Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) storms over to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and inquires after the “[n-word]-torturing business,” it is very difficult indeed to believe she would have nearly as much a problem with the cops torturing “[n-words]” if they’d also managed to find her daughter’s killer.

This is largely because the suffering of people of colour at the hands of the police is never more than a (white) talking point, and a passing one at that: we’re told Dixon tortured a Black man pretty horrifically at some point before the film, but we never see him, we never hear his name. It’s nothing but a narrative device to help illustrate a white character. Mildred’s boss, Denise (Amanda Warren) is barely afforded a few “you go, girl”-s to Mildred before she is incarcerated for – you guessed it – possession in order to – guessed it again – get at Mildred. We’ve already had it established that the department holding Denise is in the business of torturing Black people so, will the camera cut to her, to see if she’s okay? No, we don’t know how she’s doing; we’re actually supposed to forget about her, but you bet your bottom dollar Mildred expresses her outrage all around the station. Might have been nice to visit her in jail even once, but we’ve got a one-woman war to wage, I guess.

Interestingly for a film whose plot is catalysed by the rape and murder of a teenage girl, Three Billboards actually takes an exceptionally dim view of all young women. Not one is portrayed as anything other than a ditzy, well-meaning but undeniably stupid girlfriend. Even the flashbacks of Mildred’s daughter, Angela (Kathryn Newton), show her to be irrationally volatile in such a way that her death is portrayed by implication as a – no matter how unjust – punishment for storming out the house.

Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) takes on an effectively messianic role throughout the film: a Good Cop™ who knows all our hearts’ desires, but not who killed Angela, it is he who promulgates Dixon’s supposed rehabilitation, informing him he has “love in [his] heart,” an insight that has escaped everyone else, audience included. Dixon takes it upon himself then to improve his actions, after having been fired for beating and throwing someone out a first floor window into traffic. Not arrested. Fired. He betters his ways through interactions solely with – yep – white people. Dixon’s increased importance as the film goes on shows him to be the avatar for any Trump voter in the seats, and the message Martin McDonagh wishes to convey is clearly one of largely liberal platitudes. “Hurt people hurt people” shouldn’t be such a stunning revelation to all the critics falling over themselves to give Three Billboards 5 stars for its “nuance,” and yet it seems to be its rallying cry. Unlearning oppressive thought and behaviour is acknowledged as uncomfortable, through its insistence on showing graphically the pain Dixon experiences in the second half of the film (in contrast to almost any of the pain experienced by his victims), but it gets so wrapped up in showing the discomfort, it forgets to show any unlearning.

The film had me laughing and tearing up in the grand majority of the right places, it’s nothing at all if not compelling, and the performances are fantastic. I’m especially glad to see the brilliant Caleb Landry Jones slowly climb the ladder, from first seeing him in The Last Exorcism, then Get Out and now to Three Billboards. Frances McDormand’s Best Actress Oscar will be well deserved. The film is, in occasional parts, beautiful, both visually and emotionally. However, there is an inconsistency and two-facednedness which is both ethically and morally suspect that it falls again into what may count either as tone-deafness, or indeed flat-out cynicism, which makes me want to avoid praising it too much at all. Its disquieting ambiguity is what I’m sure may have put Peter Dinklage in the first role I’ve seen him take in years that struck me as – for my perhaps patronising, able-bodied money – demeaning. The moment climaxes are reached, guns are drawn or buildings burned, Three Billboards has shifted out of clumsily handled dramatic thinkpiece territory and into “Martin McDonagh, director of Seven Psychopaths,” Tarantino-lite genre film territory, and the transition is not nearly as smooth as everyone involved clearly thinks it is.

McDormand is a powerhouse, and I’m not saying this would have solved every problem, but imagine if Mildred Hayes had been played by Angela Bassett. Same age, same wonderful talent and ability to combine comedy, aggression and heart, but one can only imagine how much the film would have been improved if the violence and indifference of the police expressed to Black people in the South had been the crux of the story, not anecdotal reference material. If murder that inspires all actions in the film had not been of the Young White Woman, the victim supposed to inspire sympathy, but had been someone as likely to be murdered by the cops as by any criminal. This is why #OscarsSoWhite should have been treated as a blessing for Hollywood – the overrepresentation of whiteness in films isn’t just a travesty of social justice; it stops cinema from being all it could be, too.

Molly’s Game (Aaron Sorkin, 2017)

Make no mistake about it: Molly’s Game ascribes to a highly recognisable formula. It operates as a spiritual sequel to Miss Sloane, with the real-life footage application of The Big Short, dialogue technique mirroring that of The Social Network, with Spotlight-esque verbal displays of high-octane moral grandstanding. And I only partially mean this as a criticism.

There’s been an increasing renewed trend in the past few years of the “smart movie” genre, a film that allows an audience to feel intelligent for understanding the plot, largely through having characters explain the plot to one another, employing sarcasm as a veil for the genuinely didactic intention of a significant portion of the dialogue. Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age, but the cynicism with which I would have once met this phenomenon just isn’t there – this may at least partially be thanks to the power of Jessica Chastain’s performance, which alternates the machine gun extrapolation and ambiguously sardonic laconism for which we know her oh so well, but it remains, as ever, oh so good. Idris Elba’s principled former prosecutor defence attorney is as charming as only Idris Elba can be, even though we can see the lead-uo to his Mark Ruffalo-esque for-your-consideration table-thumbing speech from his introductory scene.

What becomes most intriguing to me, as I try and reflect on whether this is a weakness of the film, or its greatest strength, is the extent to which Molly Bloom’s connections are stressed in passing, but the film itself only ever seeks to investigate her and her non-disclosure of them. By actually seeing so little outside of Molly herself, the stakes of her predicament are somewhat too anchored in affect than effect, which cannot help but induce a certain weightlessness to the overall proceedings, however gripping individual scenes most assuredly are. Thus, there is very little sense of time passing, over the twelve year period of the main narrative, and thus any character building – or, indeed, unraveling – is effectively represented on a scene-to-scene basis. I do believe that, if the film’s exploration of Molly’s struggle with addiction had been more thorough, the uncertainty of time could have been a great asset to it’s phenomenological representation. However, this film was always going to operate in accordance with its stars’ performances and, on that level alone, it’s a powerhouse, no matter its predictability.

Accordingly, Molly’s Game seems to confirm what any reader has probably already surmised: a three-and-a-half star rating is for an at-most three star film this critic enjoyed to an at-least four star degree.

⭐⭐⭐1/2

Murder On the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh, 2017)

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It is perhaps only to be expected, considering the remarkable extent to which Murder On the Orient Express feels driven by product placement of one confectionery brand in particular, that its visual aesthetic at the level of mise-en-scène is 100% chocolate box. The entire film is The Polar Express, multiplied by the final shot in All That Heaven Allows. Accordingly, one expects the film to operate wholly on that level of the pleasure principle: a safe, comforting locked-room mystery, the culprit or culprits already known to the audience, who can thus sit back, relax and reminiscence with one another over which actor they saw previously and in what.

Accordingly, Murder On the Godiva Express‘ fascinating implementation of alternative camera techniques throws a spanner into the works of appeal-via-familiarity, in equal parts welcomely novel and unwelcomely jarring. The whole affair operates similarly in kind: I was grateful for several of the subtractions made to Christie’s original story, not least of all several of the unbelievable flubs made by suspects (one would hope that a princess, pretending to be a maid would indeed take more manipulation than “I hear you are a very good cook” before she lets slip “all my maids tell me so”), but sadly the film’s additions are less inspired. The insistence on adding aspects of action where absolutely none are required or truly justified soon become a chore, as, unfortunately, do many of the performances. Naturally, Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are effortless in evoking intense pathos, coming from a school that acknowledges the deepest human emotions will only respond to the most understated human performances; a memo missed by several other actors, including Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin, whose thankfully brief time onscreen is still absolute torture. It’s no secret that actors acting acting is no mean feat, but Godiva On the Godiva Express is defined by suspects pretending to be people they are not; indeed, this is true for most detective fiction.

Thankfully, all pretence eventually comes to an end, all masks slip off and Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer et al are allowed in the final 15-20 minutes or so to come into their own. However, these are good actors with long careers who should have been able to impress me – a fan of almost all of them – long before the end. For this, I suppose I must blame both the direction and the editing, which – for a film which implies the Swiss watch precision of a Wes Anderson feature, it often has stilted pauses, not unlike a sitcom with the canned laughter removed.

Ultimately, Godiva On the Godiva Godiva has shifted from Agatha Christie’s meditation on the compromising of moral imperatives in search of higher justice in lower places, into an enjoyable enough mixture of inviting familiarity and uncomfortable blunders which resolves itself to a better extent than I would have expected, but too late to salvage the film into a higher rating.

⭐⭐1/2

INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)

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Lynch’s masterpiece, and I won’t countenance any opposition, INLAND EMPIRE is a challenging development on the möbius strip structure of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and into what appears to be a meditation on a murdered Polish sex worker, quite possibly from the 1930s, trapped simultaneously in a Sartrean (albeit this time seemingly purgatorial) hotel room and in a state of Deleuzian eternal recurrence, experienced both by her and we the spectators (she watches all the filmic events through a television screen, herself) as a rhizomatic system of assemblages that serve to investigate genealogies of gendered violence, ultimately in search of a line of flight.

Or, at least, that’s how best I make “sense” of INLAND EMPIRE. The keenest interpretation is one that doesn’t necessarily accept any (I say “any,” rather than “either”) of Laura Dern’s characters as the true protagonist. Characters merge, they fracture, they exchange roles, become each other’s mirrors, avatars, spiritual doppelgangers. In so doing, INLAND EMPIRE reflects on the ways in which we can become our own victims and perpetrators and, accordingly, how much self-liberation may feel like self-murder.

Constant motifs of holes speak to the permeable membranes of ontology and identity that come to define the constellation of bodies that make up the assemblage of characters and situations of INLAND EMPIRE, the folded silk reflecting the foldings at levels both spatial and temporal which Sue/Nikki/? as the Lost Girl’s avatar/s must strategically navigate to a point of self-realisation and radical self-realignment to achieve meaningful deterritorialisation and liberation. When that moment finally arrives, it is perhaps Lynch’s most sublime, moving and beautiful moment in his whole career. Indeed, it expresses a similar sense of pathos as the ending to The Tempest in which Prospero’s letting go is clearly Shakespeare’s as well. It comes as no surprise that INLAND EMPIRE was announced as Lynch’s final film for entirely the same reason: it’s a film, made of endings. It may not be an ending everyone likes, nor one everyone understands, but it is nonetheless perfect in its philosophy and its execution.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985)

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A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge may not have much going for it at all, other than being perhaps the only ostensibly straight horror film gayer than The Lost Boys, but at least it has that, I suppose.

Indeed, sexuality is at the core of most responses to ANOES2. Long before the frankly annoying, bordering on genuinely offensive jokes about the Babadook and the new Pennywise being gay icons, people were already speculating on the perceived “fruitiness” of Freddy, particularly in relation to Jesse, the protagonist of ANOES2, sleepwalking away from his haplessly unfulfilled beard of a girlfriend to the bedroom of his boisterous classmate, and an encounter with his sadistic gym teacher in a leather bar. His gym teacher’s death includes being bound in a standing position and being nakedly towel-whipped, by the way.

However, any critical interpretation of
ANOES2 that reads Freddy as a homophobic portrayal of queer monstrosity (not that cinematic representations of queer monstrosity has ever been anything to which I’ve been remotely consistently opposed) is an oversimplification to the point of gross misrepresentation. The first ANOES reflected on traumatic neuroses of adolescence above all in relation to the sins-of-the-father (and, indeed, mother), commenting astutely to a level really only bested by IT on the parental negligence, if not total absence in one sense or another, integral to virtually every teen slasher ever made. ANOES2, by contrast, reflects the brutality of the closet for queer teens, trying to make it through high school.

In contrast to a great many horrors, in which the domesticated animals that suffer the most are typically pet cats, in this film we see the deaths – in fact, explosions, of birds and, later, fish. Animals that are caged, confined, one might suggest closeted. The death of Coach Schneider makes significant reference to BDSM at a time when it was almost exclusively associated with gay subculture, but decides to leave the gay bar, in favour of a high school changing room. By electing as a torture implement a wet towel over an actual whip, Freddy draws attention to the significant undertones of queer sexual frustration within so many horseplay and hazing rituals within male bonding contexts that always hole a volatile, violent potential. In such a way, a character who could have become a great confidante for the hero is instead the non-supernatural antagonist, until his death.

One of the most striking images from the original film was the phone receiver growing a tongue and freaking out not only the hero, Nancy, but everyone else in the audience. Similarly in ANOES2 Freddy’s tongue makes another appearance, flopping out of Jesse’s mouth as he makes out with Lisa. An exaggerated size, but also blue and flaccid, the tongue is no longer a simple phallic signifier of prurience, but of overcompensation. Freddy is absolutely throughout the film the manifestation of a deformed masculinity which, in the name of self-denial of genuine desires, acts out both destructively and self-destructively.

So, why am I only giving ANOES2 two and a half stars? Put most simply, it’s just not scary enough. Freddy’s apparent need for Jesse to kill for him in this film makes the entire process rather more mundane, and thus it doesn’t engage with nearly enough surrealism in the dream sequences, or blur the line between dream and reality to the same seamless extent as the first. If my interpretation of ANOES2 is correct, that Freddy’s power in this film stems first and foremost from the violent anguish of the closet, it stands to reason that his defeat should have been connected to a coming-out of one sort or another. Instead, Lisa kissing Freddy to turn him back into Jesse, freeing him from the clutches of evil via the assurance of heterosexual romance, is a significant let-down. Of course, the fact that he is revealed in the final sequence not to be defeated, after all, could imply a hammering-home of my interpretation but, considering ANOES‘ ending being stuck on at the last minute, contrary to Wes Craven’s wishes, to imply later sequels, it’s hard not to perceive ANOES2‘s in exactly the same way, rendering it largely worthless in terms of analysis.

ANOES2 is, ultimately, a less than successful horror in every aspect apart from its novel approach to representation of queer anxiety. This is, however, more than enough reason to watch it.

⭐⭐1/2

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

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The genre film’s genesis – indeed, its very ontology – is, by many standards, some of the clearest and most compelling evidence of the dialectical process at work. The western, the musical, the gangster, the romcom, the horror are all formed and established in a system of dialogues between studios and spectators, manifesting as individual films and as cinema attendance/ticket sales/reviews. And yet, what sounds like a system of refinery holds many elements of inherent vice. Consider the Nightmare On Elm Street series: what began as a genuinely scary film inspired sequels which established a franchise. Franchisement made Freddy Krueger a recognisable household name, even to children far too young to watch the movies, which consequently quickly established the need for Freddy to become and increasingly comedic and even cuddly character, reliant on one-liners, and an ever further far cry from the vengeful ghost of a child rapist, acting as the manifestation of genealogical trauma.

The Cabin in the Woods is, first and foremost, a thinly veiled metaphor for just how hard it is to make a good horror film in the 21st Century. The “sacrifice” that appears to be effectively a standard horror film has at its core a triangle of tension, whose points are adherence to the pre-established generic formula, freshness and adaptability to change, and plausibility. We notice quickly how, in order to present a narrative supposedly more “relatable” to us, the complexity of humanity is coercively voided in favour of one-dimensional archetypes through psychotropic chemistry that would turn Curt (Chris Hemsworth) an eloquent Sociology major who happens to be sporty into a testosterone-fuelled jock who refers to his own friends as “eggheads.” The reliance on the kids’ “free will” and “choosing” is consistently re-mentioned by the senior technicians, and yet their hand is forced in ever-increasingly implausible ways.

Indeed, several of the deaths are distinctly unsatisfactory – not least of all Curt’s crashing into an invisible forcefield – indeed, into the second half, the Director seems content simply to send a SWAT team to shoot Marty (Fran Kranz), just to get the job done. This is effectively the problem with the genre format, as revealed by Cabin formulae being demanded inevitably leads to desensitisation, which leads to shortcuts, which leads to the formulae not being adhered to, after all. We may consider again the “free choice” given to the kids through various items put in the basement to invoke unwittingly one horror or another, all of whom we later encounter in the second half of the film. Save for the “Zombie Redneck Torture Family,” which of the other monsters would have actually made any sense at all in a cabin in the woods? Certainly not the giant cobra, the murderous clown, the buzzsaw-wielding robot straight out of Chopping Mall… The necessity for adherence to tropes as part of the sacrifice paints the process into a corner of reasonable plausibility, with a tragically untapped well of potential, as represented by senior technician Hadley (Bradley Whitford)’s constant disappointment at never seeing a merman.

It was with a similar disappointment that I responded to Cabin the first time I saw it but, with each rewatch, I am further impressed by the extent to which it acts as film-as-film-criticism. A significant development on Scream which simply employs a character to straight-up tell an audience the “rules” of being in a horror film, Cabin manages to lambast them. What it provides instead is, arguably, not all that much, which is why seeing it as I did most recently as the first film in a movie marathon (immediately followed by You’re Next, Get Out, Kill List, The Babadook and It Follows) was such a perfect way to experience it. Ultimately, Cabin‘s status as horror critique first and horror film second means it can never be perfect; it is, however, a legitimate, engaging and deeply funny set-up for what I consider to be the horror golden age we are currently experiencing.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, 2017)

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Now I truly know what Freud meant by the unheimlich. I sat there, watching Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Chlöe Sevigny and other people I know I’ve seen before, and yet the only reasonable explanation for The Snowman is that it was made by an entire cast and crew who not only have never made a film before, but have never encountered the very hypothetical concept of film before.

There is something bold, daring and courageous in the way that The Snowman genuinely never puts a foot right in its two glacial hours of disappointment. The acting is stilted and disjointed. The editing is ugly as sin. The characters are underdeveloped, their motivations at no point satisfactorily justified – least of all the killer’s – with a horrendous “nine years earlier” subplot, starring Val Kilmer impersonating Mark Kermode impersonating The Godfather, whose character was murdered by the killer for “getting too close to the truth,” not that the subplot is characterised or detailed in any way whatsoever for us to see that. Honestly, why don’t we just have the opening titles, followed by a note that says “some murders happened, but Michael Fassbender put a stop to the eventually,” if the film believes so strongly in telling, rather than showing?

Speaking of showing, the one thing a spectator might be able to hope for, considering the trailers which gleefully advertise a severed head, is some gratuitous violence, leading one to see the film in the hope of some tasteless fun – sadly, no such luck there, either. The murders are few and far between, and mostly all but completely obscured.

The Snowman, by employing an almost entirely British cast, decided that it would present an entirely British-accented Norway which, combined with the truly dreadful sound editing, gives the impression of a film awkwardly dubbed à la an unintentionally self-parodic 70s martial arts flick, but that tragically results in J.K Simmons, forcing himself into a British bourgeois accent, about as comfortably as he would force himself into Maggie Cheung’s outfit in Irma Vep. I want to blame the director or the producer, but a film this horribly put together should have encouraged riotous levels of resistance from every actor, every grip, every caterer and intern onset. Everyone involved should be held collectively responsible. feel somehow responsible. I could have, should have done more to stop this train wreck and, for that, I am truly sorry.

 

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Multiple Maniacs (John Waters, 1970)

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A classic Dreamland production that somehow had managed to pass me by, Multiple Maniacs may just be Waters’ true masterpiece. Unlike Pink Flamingos or Female Trouble, where Divine’s characters are driven by perhaps overly-cartoonish grandiose ambitions of infamy and depravity, Maniacs‘ incarnation of Lady Divine has her pettiness and hyperbole balance one another out to the point that her motivations seem typically, dare I say, reasonable?

Early enough in Waters’ career for his influences still to shine through, the spectator is able – encouraged, even, to pick up on references to Jack Smith, Buñuel, Pasolini; the cinematography’s roaming imperfections, in relation to sporadic yet vital use of post-production overhead narration allows the aesthetic to range from genuine vérité to a semi-neorealist Flaming Creatures. Consequently perhaps, although Multiple Maniacs clearly intends to shock, disturb and disgust, its portrayal of sexuality borders at times on the legitimately erotic.

Coming closest therefore to addressing the Dreamlanders’ actual desires, it is unsurprising that Maniacs effectively represents their actual principles, too, before they become refracted into different characters in later films. At the heart of Multiple Maniacs‘ philosophy is the celebration of family, however alternative it may be, and, accordingly, that the greatest sin of all is betrayal. Pink Flamingos addresses the same issues of protection of an alternative family structure, but the threatening forces are external tribalist animosity. Polyester recognises the internal threat of betrayal, but within a bourgeois heteronormative nuclear family. Multiple Maniacs‘ power stems in many ways from its reflection on the need for unity within queer social relations, to such an extent that its prolonged jump-cut sequence between Divine and Mink’s “rosary job” and Jesus, first feeding the “5000,” and then being given the kiss of death by Judas, and his inevitable crucifixion, cannot be interpreted purely as simple sacrilege. Instead, this is Waters himself engaging with the parabolic.

Considering the motley crew of reprobates involved in this and practically all productions of Waters’, Multiple Maniacs is the perfect love letter to what was to come.

 

⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2