When a Scientific Discovery becomes a tool for EXACTING domestic Abuse: Leigh Whannell’s re-imagination of H. G. WELLS’ THE INVISIBLE MAN

Image from The Verve

Just when you thought February would go out whimpering into the night with less than favorable movies and only a smattering of choices for the art-house crowd, Leigh Whannell arrives in the nick of time with his follow-up to his 2018 movie http://v-nep.org/classroom/writings/04/ decrease in semen viagra https://eagfwc.org/men/can-you-buy-cialis-in-vietnam/100/ source site https://naturalpath.net/natural-news/buy-cialis-5mg-from-canada/100/ cialis hubbell levitra south riding essay on the renaissance watch https://lajudicialcollege.org/forall/good-intros-essay-yourself/16/ how to write a theme analysis essay 5 paragraphs source site source site essay about immigration in united states list of topics for a research paper writing up an employee http://mechajournal.com/alumni/critical-essay-thesis-help/12/ enter site how to improve critical thinkingВ viagra food and drink source link free math homework help online as english literature coursework marking scheme case study advertising and the price of eyeglasses custom paper work viagra online legitmate canada source link https://www.guidelines.org/blog/dissertation-hashtag/93/ can you get high off viagra https://www.arohaphilanthropies.org/heal/levitra-blum/96/ https://recyclesmartma.org/physician/viagra-mount-jewett/91/ Upgrade. This time, Whannell aims for the Everest of ambitions, that is, to tackle H. G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man and make it palatable for today’s audiences while retaining the structure of the original as intact as possible.

As most of you know, this has not been easy. The first time that Wells’ novel was successfully adapted onto the screen was in 1933 by James Whale who was just coming off of two successes: Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932) . Whale’s version, to the movie’s success, significantly altered much of the narration and blended another novel, The Murderer Invisible, into the plot, adding the presence of two women (Gloria Stuart and Una O’Connor) mainly to act as damsels in distress, a popular draw to ensure box-office returns.

It wasn’t until 2000 when Paul Verhoeven would make a stab at doing his own version, and his was a dismal failure because even while it stuck to the original novel in keeping the hubris turned insanity of Griffin intact, it also somehow, reduced the lead into just another generic slasher killer, and with all other supporting roles in service of being lopped off one by one until the movie’s overblown climax.

Whannell judiciously moves his focus from the psychopathic Adrian Griffin, here played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (previously from he Haunting of Hill House), to that of his emotionally an physically battered wife Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss). It’s a brilliant move, because by eliminating Griffin’s visual prominence, one is left with the one person who could embody everyone’s worst fear come to life: the fear of being watched by an unseen, increasingly malevolent force.

From the word go, The Invisible Man takes off like a rocket in the night, giving you enough information that Cecilia is at her breaking point in a marriage gone so completely off the rails that her only chance of emerging whole, while bruised and perpetually looking over her shoulder, is to escape. Her escape is the first of a movie oozing with nerve-biting moments in which we know danger is barely a breath away and savagery could strike at any given moment. That Cecilia manages to complete her plan is but a miracle, but even then, her nightmare is just about to begin.

With nowhere to go, Cecilia hides in the house of a friend, Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). While there, Cecilia learns that Adrian has committed suicide but has left her financially comfortable with an allowance to be dispensed by Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom (Michael Dorman). This, however, brings no comfort. Cecilia is a woman constantly on the edge, living in mortal fear because even in death, Adrian’s ghostly menaces continue to taunt her.

Cecilia learns that she’s got a very legitimate right to feel like sleeping with one eye open. Soon enough, strange things start occurring around her. A breakfast overcooks and burns, footsteps start appearing on the floor… and could that be the silhouette of a man under a sheet that seems as though it was pulled off of her as she slept?

Slowly but surely, Cecilia becomes more and more aware that Adrian is somehow, still stalking her. But what can she do when no one can see him? Whannell escalates the events to a breaking point, ruthlessly alienating Cecilia until she is practically left with nothing but her own nauseating horror that this will only end with one (or both) of them dying. It’s almost too cruel to watch Moss being so relentlessly terrorized, but if you strip away the tangential sci-fi overtones and the gorgeous settings (lke Adrian’s fortress-like house overlooking the sea), you have your basic wife, battered and isolated to the point of no return, frantically trying to outdo her stalker by any means necessary, even at the cost of her own life. In that aspect, Moss, with her wide eyes and jaw at the ready, is the embodiment of every woman who’s lost her power.

This is a movie that is a terrifying visual minefield. During its entire run, you are constantly searching for the villain hiding in plain sight and Whannell often teases you with clever pans to some dead space that seems to be enfolding Cecilia and keeps the gaze there, as if to tell you, “Look closer.” Adrian’s presence practically dominates the narrative even when he is technically not occupying some space and Whannell’s razor-sharp direction does manages to turn him into a deadly killing machine, particularly in one unbelievable sequence in a restaurant that essentially condemns Cecilia in one blink or miss fell swoop. I have to say that I loved this movie, I was at the edge of my seat when I caught it in theaters, and even when there were a few missteps, they didn’t detract from the savage fight to cut the cords of a marriage gone to hell.

When Fashion Becomes a symbol for the irresistible feminine to Manifest itself: a (Humble) attempt to understand Luca Guadaguino’s THE STAGGERING GIRL

Image from The Playlist

One of the reasons I love the short form is that it allows for a director or writer to paint scenes that don’t aim to expound on a topic In a detailed, didactic manner, but instead prefer to dispense enough information to allow you, the viewer, to still follow a (somewhat cohesive) story, a character’s journey, and arrive with that character to a moment of recognition. It doesn’t have to satisfy as a whole, but it should make one feel as though one saw an experiment, a dream, perhaps time blended into and outside of itself.

Guadagnino, the Call Me By Your Name director, teams up with fashion designer Valentino to use the famed designer’s 2018/2019 collection of sumptuous, dreamy gowns as a motif for memory, loss, and the reconciliation with a woman’s inner goddess. He focuses on two opposing characters linked by a fragile whiff of sensuality that comes in the form of a stranger’s confession overheard through the thin walls of a New York apartment. Francesca Moretti (Julianne Moore) becomes the witness to this confession in which she eavesdrops on a woman (played by Kiki Layne) telling a story to an unseen (listener? therapist?) person. Disturbed, perhaps haunted by this confession as it stirs images of a large blue and red fabric she wore once as a girl, a fabric that becomes almost a character in itself, Francesca starts her own voyage of exploration.

That voyage lands her in Italy, where her ailing mother, renowned artist Sophia Moretti (Marthe Keller) lives. Sophia has been having eyesight problems and is at an age where she cannot oversee the house where she basically grew into, and created roots. The mother/daughter reunion is prickly at best with references to Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata or Almodovar’s High Heels. Francesca feels Sophia should move into a smaller location, or (unstated but inferred) an older person’s home, or to New York with her. She could still paint as much as she’d like. Nothing, other than location, would change.

But what is a person, if not the location, the place where they grew up in? I consider myself a staunch New Yorker, born and raised, and of course the opening scene in which we see Moore judiciously cast as Francesca, clad in black, making her way across the Upper East Side neighborhood where she lives, gave me an immediate sense of memory, identity, down to her small, spartan apartment that has next to no decor, no signs of renovation, and incredibly for 2020, a beige rotary phone. Just seeing this short opening scene in which Francesca both grapples with a husband (voiced by Kyle McLachlan) who wants her back and the aforementioned stranger whose voice seeps through the walls of her old apartment, gave me a sense of familiarity.

Then we have Sophia, tied as she is to her own surroundings. Guadagnino never explicitly resolves the budding drama if Sophia manages to remain in Italy, but when we hear her plead, “But this is my home!”, the emotions hit hard because we infer she will not remain there. It would be difficult for someone like Sophia, with her failing eyesight, to adapt to a new location. The house used for Sophia’s home, as old as it looks, surrounded by lush vegetation and fountains, is her place, for better or worse.

But what if all this push and pull is merely a MacGuffin? I kept wondering about this after a second, then a third viewing.

Throughout the short movie, Francesca as been unable to write her memoirs. Her memories of her father, her lover, and the man who takes care of Sophia seem to have become a blur who comes in the form of Kyle McLachlan. In every case, this male figure departs, and only one, Bruno, the man who selflessly (and with hints of unrequited love) takes care of Sophia, remarks, upon discussing Sophia’s paintings of swans which have become abstractions, “I suppose this is the journey we are all on, from the literal to the abstract.” In a way, Francesca has become just as blind as her mother. This is why “everything seems so different!” when she arrives to her mother’s home, why she can’t quite connect with herself. And it’s the sole reason why, that omnipresent cape will become the symbol that will link Francesca to her own goddess-self.

Image from Tumblr

This is the kind of film that could pass as too artsy for its own good. You have a blatant Woody Allen homage in the opening titles and an entire scene almost lifted verbatim from Allen’s Another Woman. The plot is maddeningly confusing and requires at least a second viewing, but perhaps that is Guadagnino’s intention. One view is not enough to appreciate the density and depth of the story that seems both a sketch and a fully finished work of art flanked by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s stirring, transcendent score. I’m one of these people that don’t need everything to explained to me in bullet points. To watch The Staggering Girl was both a challenge for me to interpret it to the best of my ability, or to take it as it is, and leave it at that without too much analysis (and that’s also, not including spoilers). However, haunted I was by these dreamy images of Kiki Layne pouring her heart out and being almost a ghost, or Mia Goth and the great Marthe Keller playing two different versions of themselves when Goth is British and Keller is German. Even more daring, to see Moore playing herself as a girl and practically making you believe it. I don’t think it all quite comes together as a whole, but that’s not the intention. Dreams are never complete, memory can be failing, but impressions of a life lived and enjoyed are timeless.

It is safe to say for me that The Staggering Girl, surrealist, ambitious, and one that also pays homage to womanhood in all its ages (especially in that soaring, ecstatic finale! The image of a warrior-like Marthe Keller, a vision in magenta and flowing, white hair, charging towards a group of women remains burned in my mind) will be studied and talked about. I’ve already been touched by its magic, it’s sheer canvas of emotion, of impressionist memory, and Julianne Moore sitting regally in her mother’s garden, joyously opening, giving in, and finally, celebrating the rediscovery of her own heart.

The Staggering Girl is available on MUBI, Amazon Prime Video, and iTunes.

Failed Romance: OLYMPIC DREAMS and PREMATURE

Nick Kroll and Alexi Pappas in Olympic Dreams. Image from Deadline.

Opposites attract, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they belong together, or that they can be an easy fit. Here we have two movies which have had their all-too-brief NY run at the IFC during the month of February before disappearing altogether into the sea of streaming releases. The first one, Olympic Dreams, comes under the guise of what seems to be guerrilla film-making, with Jeremy Teicher sneaking his camera in and out of the 2018 Olympics at Pyeong Yang while his girlfriend Alexi Pappas, herself an accomplished athlete, plays a thin version of herself as a young cross-country skier named Penelope who’s a bit lost among her fellow athletes. We don’t exactly get what it is that is ailing her, only that she seems to be at a moment when she may collapse into a puddle of tears at the slightest provocation.

Into the mix comes Nick Kroll as a volunteer dentist named Ezra who provides sound advice to the young competitors he comes in touch with, while occasional mouthing off blurts of what seems to be a broken relationship with an unseen girlfriend that hovers over his frame like a dead weight he refuses to let go of. He comes across Penelope as she sits by herself in full wallflower regalia, and starts up some awkward conversation that goes exactly nowhere as she is focused on her sport. That they will meet later on is practically a given, but director Teicher meanders around he entire event as if capturing bits and pieces of the Winter Olympics, offering barely there slices of other stories which remain undeveloped for the sake of his central story.

Speaking of a story, Olympic Dreams goes by the way of blurring French New Wave sensibilities with a good amount of documentary-style narration in presenting through observation a budding romance between the progressively assertive Penelope and the progressively neurotic Ezra in an appropriate May-December romance. [Kroll is just north of 40, while Pappas is 30.] In short, nothing other than their meeting proper and ultimate clash of personalities takes place of note in Teicher’s little film which renders the movie rather superficial. It’s cute, with hints of the greater movie it might have been. With its sense of letting Kroll and Pappas (herself a newcomer in the acting world) perform through improvisation, you do get a feeling of authenticity. However, once the hour mark approaches, it does become a bit too meandering for its own good and in eschewing an escalating tension between the two leads in lieu of naturalism, one does start to wonder how will this all play out in a satisfying way.

Here we have a movie that will appeal audiences who love mumblecore. Personally, I have my misgivings with the genre. I find it too naturalistic for my own taste. Next to no effort is made to give the movie a stamp that might help it stand out on its own. Olympian Dreams has enough points to recommend it as a sort-of? romance that manages to overcome its own limitations but ultimately remains too slight to be memorable.

Credit: Chicago Indie Critics.

Faring better is Rashaad Ernesto Green’s sharp, incisive and poignant Premature, who transforms a tired old story of young love into something fresh and resonant. Ayanna (Zora Howard, who also wrote the screenplay and also manages to showcase her poetry in a smattering of introspective scenes) is a 17 year old high school student who carries herself with an aura of high ambition and intellect and enjoys a healthy, if at times slightly imperfect sisterhood with several girls of her Bronx neighborhood , most notably with Tenita (Alexis Maria Wint) and Shonte (Imani Lewis) while living with her single mother (Michelle Wilson), who treats her more as a friend than a daughter.

As it would happen, Ayanna crosses paths with Isaiah (Joshua Boone), an older, handsome guy who brings his own world of musical creativity into Ayanna’s world when he manages to successfully court her in a few build-up scenes fraught with sharp dialog and restrained desire. From here on, Both start a rather torrid affair that quickly–prematurely?–reaches its own high before the inevitable crash happens. Soon, both Ayanna is left questioning her own place alongside Joshua, and Joshua starts to wonder if perhaps Ayanna’s sudden diminishing might be a signal that they need a break.

Howard’s screenplay doesn’t go for obvious answers and prefers to tackle its premise from a realist point of view. In not making her heroine too confident and exposing her vulnerabilities that surface once she is head over heels for Joshua, Howard creates a complex young woman who may have to face some hard choices along the way when some unexpected events take place which may derail her future and leave her in limbo. Joshua is also just as complicated: he’s not the typical, commitment-phobe but someone who is also unsure of what might happen. His worldliness and ability to discuss the state of hip hop in a world where artists have sold out does not belie that he still has no idea who he truly is, or what he wants.

In his second picture, Green asserts himself in bringing yet another slice of life of the type of New Yorker that you rarely will see on film. His Premature is an intimate, gorgeous love letter into the lives of intelligent kids from the Bronx, full of lived-on moments, standout sequences (the first scene on the train crackles and could be its own musical), and wonderful introspection. This movie will stay with me for a while.

Both films are available on most streaming platforms (iTunes, Prime). Give them a try.

At the End of the February Slump, EMMA. Arrives

I’ve come to the belief that Jane Austen was born ahead of her time and died too soon. No, her novels aren’t exactly ground-breaking works and stand firmly apart and ahead of the Gothic and Romantic curve. In fact, her works seem to almost perform a thumbing of the nose against overwrought passions and stormy, gloomy settings: Northanger Abbey was a clear satire of Gothic literature, and some of the more hysterical characters of Pride and Prejudice could be seen as just shy of Romantic caricature. Even historical epics weren’t her taste (she left that to Sir Walter Scott). Instead, Austen preferred to keenly observe. Her observations, put on paper with a remarkable sense of wit, humor, and deep characterizations down to the smallest player, have survived the test of time and shown that while they may be of a different era, these stories could very well fit any modern setting. By that she single-handedly gave the romance genre (and today’s rom-com) a solid foundation based on realism and practicality, removing anything that would be considered too turbulent and turgid, and focusing on a natural progression of story arcs and character development. At the same time she managed to become her society’s best critic, allowing us to, 200 years later, see how little we have changed.

I confess I’ve never read Emma, and it seems to be the third most popular of Austen’s books following its 1996 version with a pre-Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow (when she was on the rise as a promising actress), and its more contemporary version, Clueless, which still manages to be my favorite adaptation so far even when it ventures into that horrible affectation called Valspeak. Autumn de Wilde’s version comes as a crisp, pret-a-porter version more suited to Masterpiece Theatre, and I mean that as a compliment if you have ever seen any of their shows besides the ubiquitous Downton Abbey. It allows Anna Taylor-Joy, today’s current horror movie queen, to step out of her terrorized shows for once and flex some serious comedic chops that until now she had not been able to show as the remarkably self-centered and insecure, titular Emma, a woman who is so confident of her privilege that she is, well, clueless to the realities of others and her own but barrels ahead, screwing the lives of those around her, and making a truly ugly mistake against a neighbor (Miranda Hart in a scene-stealing performance, but you knew that already if you’ve seen her show, right?) who stands by the sidelines witnessing everyone around her engaging in social events while she can only pine and lavish praise.

De Wilde’s Emma doesn’t try to out-do any of its predecessors, or create a broken narrative starting at some crucial event and backpedaling, but instead reveals an easy, breezy narrative as it presents its characters, with all their strengths and weaknesses, and lets Emma start playing her version of God to disastrous results as she mentors the shy Harriet Smith (Mia Goth, fresh out of High Life and also seen in The Staggering Girl). Johnny Flynn plays Mr Knightley, her neighbor and heir to his own estate, even when it doesn’t take care of it as he should, and while his part is a bit passive, he does come across as the perfect foil to Emma’s borderline insufferable sense of superiority. Flynn might be a bit too young to carry out his part but he’s easy on the eyes and for a movie like this, that is sometimes all that matters In short, Emma is often a gorgeous period piece that gets it right, makes its occasional jabs at the nouveau riche, delivers its laughs in all the right places (even when some of them are slightly mean-spirited), and ultimately reveals a good heart just underneath.

Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice for the makers of THE LODGE.

Image from Polygon

Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala are the directing duo who in 2015 chilled the entire nation with their debut movie Goodnight, Mommy. That little horror movie, which initially made its New York premiere during New Directors / New Films, introduced a clever bit of storytelling about the tenuous love-hate relationship that can happen between a struggling parent and her twin boys. The atmosphere was packed to the gills with dread dripping from every frame and there were hints that there might be something… off about the mother, who during the most of the movie was acting rather strange. Adding to that a near complete isolation from the outside world (although that house the directors picked truly is gorgeous) and an impending sense that something terrible could happen to the two brothers you had a solid little chiller that made a lasting impact while also bumming the nation with its rather horrifying ending.

The premise of their follow up, The Lodge, a movie that made its premiere at Sundance last year, is almost identical at the bare-bones level. Here we have a family devoid of warmth entering a lodge located in the middle of nowhere. Husband and wife Richard and Laura (Richard Armitage and Alicia Silverstone in a striking cameo that suggests madness just underneath her placid features) enter the frame, and you already know something is off about their body language. They’re not happy to have come here, and the father has something he needs to discuss with the wife. What he discusses is pretty much the stuff that drove the wife of Lamb to the Slaughter to the extreme, but instead of applying all that pent up rage on the husband… she smiles, goes up to her room, and blows her brains out in one cold shot.

That sets the entire movie for the events that are next to unfold. With the wife not even cold in the grave, the Richard has taken up with Grace (Riley Keough), a young woman who as a girl was the only survivor of a cult of the likes that tend to drink the kool-aid in the false belief that they will ascend to heaven, their sins purged. His two young children, Aidan an Mia (Jaeden Martell and Lia McHugh) accuse Grace of being responsible of their mothers suicide, and are distraught that she will not ascend to Heaven. In an effort to bond, Richard takes his soon-to-be-wife and two kids up to the same lodge where the previous events occurred, because that is what you do when you want your family to come together. Grace is already showing some signs she’s a bit ‘off’ herself and we realize she is heavily medicated. You really wonder what on Earth was Richard thinking when he decided to replace Laura with Grace with disastrous consequences.

Image from Polygon

At first, not much really happens, but hints are thrown that perhaps there is something supernatural afoot. The dog growls at something unseen in the night, and Grace almost falls through the ice while attempting to retrieve Mia’s doll replica of Laura. When Richard leaves for work, the simmering hostility that was hinted between the kids and Grace takes center stage and soon the movie turns into a perverse version of Turn of the Screw with the two terrorizing themselves and Grace as things go bump in the night, the house loses power, time stops, and she begins to start having nightmares about her father that have her awakening in the middle of the night outside in the cold, with no idea how she got there. For the most, the setup is solid, if a bit aloof, and I was perfectly okay with that because disorientation and isolation make for excellent horror (and if not check The Lighthouse). It’s when matters threaten to get out of hand (and then they do) that the movie somehow doesn’t quite know how to catch up to its own predicament. We’re then left with a story heading into a chilling third act, a rather lazy revelation, and then this sudden act of violence that is supposed to somehow be horrifying but instead feels tacked on.

For the most part, the movie is a solid watch and everyone is on point, particularly Riley Keough as the damaged young woman at the centre of the maelstrom. When she first appears we’ve received so much negative information about her that we really aren’t prepared for her character to emerge as a rather soft spoken person who is just trying to act normal in a rather tense situation. [Although, this could have also gone the opposite way and have her underplay her part until we got a big reveal; it’s been done before many times.] My only issue would be how her character goes so far off the deep end once the supernatural and her own mental instability (plus other factors) collide in a perfect storm. I could, however, see a parallel between Grace’s character and Laura’s: both are victims of religion, which festers all over the house, but the demise of the first seems to bleed into the slow meltdown of the second.

Franz and Fiala clearly have solid views on how to explore the topic of family units dissolving into madness and victims of perverse systems castigating themselves for sins they have no control over. However, the latter half of the movie wrings all the suspense and the dread out of its center, rendering a family tragedy a rather cold mess that doesn’t even feature an adequate, emotional pay-off. However, if you compare The Lodge with what’s on now, this one shines with flying colors.

On its own, The Lodge is effective, but not exactly logical or memorable.

In Case you missed them in Theaters (as I did)…

Sofia Boutells in Climax

For the past few posts I’ve been talking about the horror that the new year begins with terrible new releases that only serve to fill in gaps as older releases, all of them from the October – December trimester, continue to play to justify award season demands (and the upsurge that a win can produce). Case in point, Parasite. At the start of the year, Parasite was playing — still to packed audiences, mind you, the movie has not lost much in momentum with the public — in a little more than 150 theaters. Come the end of January it expanded to 1,000 theaters, and then suddenly, throughout the entirety of February, to twice that amount. In that time we have had a litany of forgettable movies come and go with an incredible swiftness to the point it almost begged the question, “Why bother at all to release this pile of crap when you could have just opened more slots for Parasite and still make good money?” Of course, I will answer my own question. Movies picked up for distribution — even the truly awful ones — must get their just release (unless other forces are at work which make it then stuck in limbo). They have to play for the requisite seven to 14 days, take the money they can make, and run. And make the remainder of their impact via VOD platforms.

So, imagine the choices when your truly has seen all of the critically acclaimed films making their January/February bows. I’d already seen Clemency a year ago at a sneak peek (and my review of that one is pending and will appear shortly after a second view), The New York Film Festival entries Beanpole, The Traitor, Vitalina Varela, and I Was Home, But… are now in theaters come this writing. Of all these, I have not seen the last one and plan to before it exits the Lincoln Center. Aside from that, there is next to nothing for someone who enjoys good independent and foreign movies (and even an occasional misfire). What is someone like me to do?

Give any VODs and older releases making their appearance on home rentals a chance and see what it was that I missed, and feel safe knowing that if the rental didn’t really live up to my expectations, at least I didn’t;t have to shelve out almost 17.00 to go see it and walk out a bit underwhelmed.

So let’s start: Here are the rentals I have had a chance to see, which if you have not, you should.

VILLAINS, Dan Berk and Robert Olson, USA

Dan Berk and Robert Olson have come up with a rather clever premise of two somewhat dim-witted, in-the-moment thrill seekers who have a thing for holding up convenience stores without much thought of what may happen afterwards. In some ways, they may call unto question a slight — but note, very slight — relation to some of the less ingenious criminals living in the Tarantino universe, but I don’t want to be too unfair and take away from the Berk-Olson team who have come up with an original effort worthy of note in mirrors meeting their own darker reflection.

Mickey and Jules (Bill Skarsgard and Maika Monroe, a frequent actress in the horror genre) are a pair of inept criminals who wouldn’t know the way out of a scenario if they were staring at it right in the face. While they make out with some cash from a gas station after holding it up, their luck soon runs out. It turns out… they forgot to load up their getaway vehicle with the one thing they would need to make a clean split from the area and hide out in the middle of no man’s land while waiting to commit their next score. And that, my friends, is probably the one thing that would make us wonder if in fact these two are too stupid to live.

However, their luck turns for the better when they come across a stately home off the road. Logic states, where there is a house, there must be food, and a place to hide out for the night and if things get messy… hold the inhabitants captive, right?

Berk and Olson establish a rather suspenseful scenario not without some comedic elements in having their two hapless lovebirds do a home invasion that results in the two of them stumbling on a little certain detail that derails their plans in a rather steep way. When they eventually meet the home owners (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan, both old enough to be Skarsgard and Monroe’s parents), at first they make demands on their find, and quickly find out they may be in over their heads. It all threatens to get a little out of control and I kept expecting the directors to go into French New Intensity with violence that would be just on the limits of bearable, but they instead stick to a scenario that includes power reversals, quease-inducing sexual acts of bondage, and Monroe’s sudden discovery of a moral side to her that propels the story headlong into a battle of wills in which anything might happen. Villains and its quartet of actors know they’re in a B-movie, and they all do the best they can with their characters without attempting to justify why they even got there in the first place. For the slog that theaters are in, this is the perfect rental for a cold Friday night.

CLIMAX, Gaspar Noé, France (2018)

You probably won’t want to see Gaspar Noé’s Climax, because if you know anything about his work is that he intends to shock, and often succeeds. If you recall Irreversible (2002), Monica Bellucci endured a rape scene that was unwatchable and he kept the camera dead on that terrible scene for ten excruciating minutes. The debates about why such violence against women had to be filmed ran rampant amongst those who saw the film, especially when it was a man doing the directing… and then, last year, Jennifer Kent did something just as shocking with her movie The Nightingale in which her heroine gets raped, twice, and that is still not the worst thing to happen in her miserable but historically significant story.

Nothing here comes even close to the in-your-face events of Irreversible, and yet, the movie still manages to deliver its shocks in a somewhat minor key. It’s almost as if Noé had stepped back and instead of filming some of its horror up close and personal, he chose to let his drone camera wander throughout a late 90s rave party that spirals out of control when someone spikes the booze (not a spoiler; the movie is free of spoilers) and focus on the vignettes that start to escalate in intensity with a certain detachedness. It’s probably for the best; one of the deaths involves an innocent and occurs off-screen, but it still manages to shock because of how utter lacking it is in human empathy, how bottomless its cruelty is. Another hard to stomach scene involves a pregnant party goer who gets assaulted in a rather horrifying manner only to have this repeated by a crowd and finally, by her own hand. Not your average party.

If this good cinema? If you like transgressive cinema, then yes, it will appeal to you, I personally was more amazed by the dancers themselves; I haven’t seen moves this unique since the early 90s when Vogueing was the rage thanks to Madonna stealing it from gay culture and pretending she came up with it. Acting-wise, no one really stands out; Sofia Boutella as Selva is the only thing that comes close to a lead and her character is thinly developed. If Noé can focus less on releasing the hounds of hell that he introduces musically when Cerrone’s Supernature takes a hold of the dancefloor, then we may care a bit more of what happens to these doomed party people. Noé is so enamored by the chaos waiting just around the corner, which happens midway through his 90 minutes of running time, we lose a bit of the human part of it, and all we get left are frenzied bodies contorting on the floor, babbling, self-destructing on acid.

You may ask yourself what was the point of it all, and perhaps there is no point other than to show nihilism as a night to remember or forget. In that, Noé’s two dance-oriented pictures are bookends that showcase what it might be if hell were here on Earth run by a deranged ringleader south of Buñuel at his sickest.

A Day in the Life of THE ASSISTANT: A Drama Pregnant with MeToo Subtext

Julia Garner in Kitty Green’s The Assistant. Image from Vogue

Welcome to the world of male chauvinism and the women who silently take in the abuse because sometimes even having a slight quiver of a voice and standing up might lead to meeting an exec with a smile full of fangs and an oily condescendence that is almost repugnant to watch, let alone tolerate. Julia Garner stars as Jane in this very underrated little movie fresh out of Sundance 2020, directed by Kitty Green in a way only a woman could direct this movie — by placing the action almost exclusively from the facial perspective of her lead actress, who silently moves around the office where she performs not just admin tasks but also housekeeping duties and is basically treated as an invisible maid by the men who populate the periphery of the stifling place.

In a swift 80-plus minutes we get the horrors of what it means for a woman without power to move in a world where men control the action and use and abuse all those around them with a terrifying level of casualness. When Jane stumbles quite literally across some inappropriate behavior coming from one of the agencies execs involving a new female arrival, her moral compass leads her to report the action, with dire consequences. It is a situation many of us who once had our start in the corporate world had to endure — doing what the agency tells you is actually right, written in black and white — but getting a ferocious talk-down (in this case Matthew Macfadyen) who is as morally corrupt as his superior, the never-seen boss who in this little but exacting film seems to point at a now-disgraced Hollywood exec notorious for chewing up the female species and spitting them out as if it was nothing.

Garner has a lot to do with carrying the entire plot on her shoulders and she tackles her situation in a way that any other actress bent-on emoting would have failed. She brings a quiet dignity to her mostly put-upon role, one that shows glimmers of the women she may become, but for now, has to endure an endless cycle of humiliation if at all to prove reliability as an employee. It is chilling to see her get ripped apart through the phone by her supervisor, and even more chilling when two of her colleagues, both male and by proxy, privileged, come to her when she is ordered to type an apology to dictate to her the right wording. The Assistant is a study in the cringe-worthy politics of gender inequality that still prevails today, filmed mostly in dirty, drab colors, held together by both Green’s deft hand that is strictly as an observer (albeit one that does not let the men get off easily), and should be viewed by anyone affected by the #metoo movement. Go see it; this is quite the movie from a new director and a fresh shot of indie in the slog that is January and February.