Tag Archives: dance

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.

ALL THESE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

ALL THOSE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
Poland
Director: Michal Marczak
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: Polish

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The documentary has slowly morphed into a narrative that could be a fluid as water, or as animated as a cartoon, with snippets of the real mixing seamlessly with the acted/performed. All These Sleepless NIghts, the debut film by Michal Marczak, falls under that large umbrella, something that you could call “experimental film” or “documentary – narrative fusion” in which we observe the story transpiring in fragmented pieces of time, played by actors playing versions of themselves, with the vaguest of definable plots unifying the entire product as whole. Sometimes it yields harrowing drama, and sometimes it can misfire. In this case, I’m going to remain somewhat in the middle of the two extremes because All These Sleepless Nights tackles topics of extreme hedonism, bromance gone wrong, and an aimlessness in life that I can’t quite relate to but find fascinating anyway.

So, onto the story per se: we come in, it seems, into the story in medias res, sort of at the end, with Krzysztof watching a display of fireworks from what seems to be a rather comfy Warsaw apartment. Soon later we get a sense of what happened for him to end up here; he was extremely close at point to his buddy Michal, so close that they may have almost hooked up together and lived in their own world of late-night debauchery, acts of defiance, and parties that seem to last forever. They walk around the city from event to event, discussing the type of things 20-somethings would. Somewhere along the way, Krzysztof hooks up with Eva, a waifish blonde who used to date Michal. The faintest of dents appear out of nowhere, possibly because of a sense of jealousy, perhaps? And off they go, in different tangents, Krzysztof into his own world of late-night chill out dancing and drugs; MIchal drops out of sight for a bit. When Krzyssztof breaks up with Eva he seeks Michal out but Michal either is still not too willing to take him back, or has moved on and is starting to get his act together. [After all, nights of endless partying can’t go on — life has to have a meaning, and while they both continually do discuss the meaning of it all through the early portions of the movie it’s clear they’re just dicking it around, behaving like fratboys out on the night, maybe getting into a little mayhem here or there.

My only guess is the director, Marczak,has tried to make a social commentary about the state of the youth today — in particular millennials — who seem to have no purpose but the here and now.  On one end there looks to be a fascination with that life; on the other, it’s less mere observance and more passive critique. Acquaintances form from thin air and vanish in seconds. It’s as if though life were a constant merry go round where everyone is trying to impress — but not to climb socially inasmuch to get the next high. It’s an interesting movie to see if you’re into chill out / late night lounge music, but the macho posturing that starts out somewhat insolent (and potentially dangerous; in one sequence the boys head into the metro tunnel to walk in between moving trains). There is a unsubtle nod to French New Wave. As a matter of fact this could have made a sharp little movie with its own social commentary. It premiered at New Directors – New Films and if you have an interest, please go catch it.






THE FITS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

Royalty Hightower in The Fits. Image by Variety.

Without sounding like a snob I want to confess something. Reader, I’ve seen a lot of movies. I don’t mean several hundred — that’s barely a calendar year from new releases, film festivals, and home releases. I’m talking about movies in the thousands, enough to pack a video store if they were in style.

When you can lay this claim about yourself you reach a point where you start looking for alternative forms of narration on camera, movies that are a little different from the mainstream. This is not to say mainstream cinema is bad — but when you see the same tired archetypes over and over again and now with the market saturated with colossal blockbusters retelling the same superhero story that always winds up with more reboots . . . well, to the art-theater you go.

The Fits came out as an official selection at New Directors, New Films back in March and I missed it by a fraction, so when it got its own release at Metrograph — a new movie theater for art-house lovers all the way on the LES — I rushed to see it. Reader, go see this marvelous film while it’s held over until the weekend of July 4th. This right here, is pure cinema, a story told with little dialogue, with characters that express through dance and feeling, meta-narration at its best.

Before we see her, we hear her: Toni, doing sit ups and pull ups at a boxing gym where her brother practices. Her face is a mask of pure determination, her body already lean and tomboyish, her hair in tight braids. She doesn’t say a word, even on the way home. At school we see her carrying some huge bag as though it were a cross over her shoulder; walking slowly in sharp contrast to the dance troupe she discovers and that ignites her interest. Friendships materialize out of thin air, and while Toni’s dance movements are heavy with boxing references, she starts “getting it” and even pierces her ears in order to feel more a part of the group of older women she clearly admires.

The Fits takes a takes a slow left turn, however, when one of the dance troupe instructors comes down with uncontrollable shaking and barely able to breathe. No one knows why it happened, and Toni’s friend Beezy suggests it may be epilepsy. Other girls also come down with what gets called “the fits” and the media alludes that the water may be unsafe to drink. But what does this have to do with Toni, proper, or her new found friends? Is every female under 18 at school going to fall under the spell of the fits?

Anna Rose Holmer leaves her debut film in a shroud of ambiguity that clearly went over well with the audience at the screening I saw: there was a collective mind-set of “getting it”, even when we kept seeing a sense of nascent horror creep into the fabric of the story. The Fits, with its casual sense of humor and visual incursions into poetry and surrealism (especially at the moving end sequence, a wonderful immersion into Toni’s mind that elevates the entire story out of its semi-darkness as the entire cast of girls dance, clothed in blue and gold) is closer to performance art itself than an traditional picture. So much of it relies on the non-verbal movements of Royalty Hightower who is on camera practically all throughout its run. This is a girl who can convey so much emotion into her oval face, she would be, I think, ill-serviced by rote dialogue that would verbally express what her character is going through in the awkwardness of childhood. The Fits might not be to everyone’s liking but if you discover it, you will have in your hands a wonderful piece of work.