Very Nice Moviefilms to View. High Five!
What do we have for your viewing pleasure this week? Rudy Giuliani makes a creepy fool of himself—I know what you’re thinking, but this is different. We also have scary movies, SciFi, suspense, plus a woman who only speaks in Shakespeare quotes. I know people who primarily speak in Simpsons quotes, and she sounds so much smarter. Here’s a rundown of what’s worth your time.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
by George Wolf, because Hope Madden can’t watch Borat’s pranks without leaving the room
You may have already seen a headline or two about Rudy Giuliani’s run-in with Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat.
When it happened this past July, Giuliani called the cops, and then boasted that Cohen didn’t “get him.” But now that Subsequent Moviefilm is here, we see Giuliani still lives in a world unhindered by reality, and Cohen still has a knack for finding cringeworthy humor in the most unseemly situations.
Much has changed in Borat’s world – and ours – since his 2006 adventure brought shame to his native Kazakhstan, and earned him a life sentence of hard labor. But now, with the American president’s fondness for dictatorships, Borat has a chance for redemption.
He must return to America, and get Kazakhstan on the short list for Trump’s “strongman club” by bribing Vice President Pence with a valuable offering.
The gift? Borat’s 15 year-old daughter Tutar- also known as “Sandra Jessica Parker Sagdiyev” (Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, nearly Cohen’s equal for stone faced boundary-pushing).
Borat’s special delivery during Pence’s CPAC speech on COVID-19 (beautifully synched to Pence’s promise of being “ready for anything!”) is rebuffed, so Giuliani becomes the next logical target.
And that road to Rudy is filled with Cohen’s fearless hijinx, again skewering the breeding grounds for bigotry, ignorance, misogyny, anti-semitism, QAnon, Karens and..what else ya got?
Pervy ex-mayors of NYC!
But Borat is pranking a meaner America this time. There are no layers to peel away anymore, the ugliness is out and proud. From a bakery to a pregnancy center to a Tea Party rally, the often hilarious audacity is tempered by the sadness of realizing we no longer need Borat to expose this underbelly.
So Cohen and director Jason Wolinar (a TV vet helming his first feature) make a smart and subtle pivot. Segments with Tutar’s “babysitter,” and another featuring two elderly Jewish ladies in a synagogue (one of which the film is dedicated to) mix the bracing humor with moments of touching sweetness. Cohen’s not going soft, just pausing to remind us there is hope.
Early on, Borat has to run from random Americans excited to see him on the street. It’s a refreshing acknowledgment that we’ve seen this schtick before. Yes, it’s still shockingly brazen and often laugh out loud funny, but the thrill of discovery is naturally gone.
But whether he’s Cohen posing as Borat or Borat posing as Cliff Safari (or John Chevrolet, take your pick), the comedy and the tragedy are nearly impossible to ignore, even if you want to
Playing at Gateway Film Center and streaming on Netflix.
by George Wolf
Let’s give credit where it’s due. Remaking a Hitchcock classic takes some stones. Beyond putting aside the inevitable comparisons, you’ve got to find a way to follow your own vision while honoring the elements that make the film worth revisiting.
A look at Ben Wheatley’s resume (Kill List, A Field in England, Sightseers, High Rise, Free Fire) suggests promise. But Wheatley’s update of Hitch’s 1940 gothic potboiler Rebecca can never quite fulfill it.
Things start well enough. Armie Hammer cuts a detached and dashing figure as wealthy heir Maxim de Winter. Surrounded by luxury on a Monte Carlo holiday in the late 1930s, he still struggles to recover from the sudden death of his wife, Rebecca.
Max’s mood improves when he meets a young ladies’ maid (Lily James), who must sneak away from her employer Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd) each time Max sends handwritten invitations for increasingly intimate meetups.
The whirlwind courtship leads to an impulsive marriage, with Max taking the new Mrs. de Winter back to Manderlay, his family’s sprawling estate on the windswept English coast.
The new bride’s welcome, led by Manderlay’s imposing head servant Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott-Thomas, icy perfection), is less than warm.
The memory of Rebecca permeates the house and haunts the new wife. But even as she struggles to compete with the ghost of a seemingly perfect woman, the second Mrs. de Winter is drawn into a growing mystery of what really happened to the first.
James is a natural at delivering the innocence and naïveté of the never-named proletarian suddenly thrust into the aristocracy. Likewise, Hammer’s chisled handsomeness and graceful manner make Max’s required mix of societal etiquette and subtle condescension instantly identifiable.
But their character arcs – like much of Rebecca‘s stylish narrative – begin to crumble with each new breadcrumb. Wheatley, working with a new adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s celebrated novel, checks off the revelations in a workmanlike succession that’s almost completely devoid of the suspense and sexual anxiety that propel the original film.
So when the seismic power shift strikes the de Winter’s marriage, it lands as a turn less earned and more like a matter of melodramatic convenience.
It’s all perfectly respectable, but never memorable. And by the time Wheatley’s final shot suggests a haphazard attempt to re-frame everything we’ve just seen, this Rebecca, like the young Mrs. de Winter, has a tough time measuring up.
Playing at Marcus Crosswoods Cinemas and AMC Lennox and Easton Town Centers.
by Hope Madden
Has it really been three years since filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead took us on the UFO death cult head trip that was The Endless?
It’s hard to tell with these guys. They really like to play with time.
Another riff on the same theme, Synchronic is a sci-fi fantasy about parallel dimensions and time travel—plus bath salts.
Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) are best friends and NOLA paramedics, each facing his own existential crisis. Dennis can’t seem to move past the fear that he’s settled: for his wife, his job, his life. Meanwhile, Steve—whose existence of work, drink and women long ago ceased to have meaning—gets a medical diagnosis that has him rethinking everything.
So far so ordinary, but if you’ve seen anything these filmmakers have done (and you should see everything), you know something seriously weird is coming.
The film’s conceit is a fascinating one, and every grisly crime scene offers a curious clue that may eventually help Steve solve a mystery that gives him purpose and redirects his bestie. Benson, who writes and co-directs, offers plenty of opportunity for mind-bending action and wild set pieces.
He and co-director/cinematographer Moorhead cut back and forth through time to keep you guessing as to the mystery developing, but what’s left underdeveloped are the characters.
Two of the filmmakers’ previous three efforts focused on a pair of men linked through time and experience to the other—best friends in Resolution, brothers in The Endless. This kind of relationship has proven a beautiful anchor for their trippy plots, but Synchronic doesn’t invest enough time or attention to Steve and Dennis’s characters.
Both Mackie and Dornan are solid enough, but their chemistry is weak. The time-worn friendship is more discussed than exposed. Worse, Synchronic is the first of the filmmakers’ movies to lack a robust sense of humor. And it is missed.
The result is a sometimes dour though mainly melancholy effort that feels far less original than it really is. Synchronic is clever, to be sure, and at times quite touching. But for filmmakers who’ve until now positively dripped with inspiration, it feels like a step backward.
Beasts Clawing at Straws
Playing at Gateway Film Center.
by Hope Madden
Who doesn’t enjoy a good bag o’cash flick?
Whether it’s the darkly humorous Lucky Grandma or lyrically tragic A Simple Plan, the terrifying innocence of Millions, or the violent masterpiece that is No Country for Old Men, modern cinema has proven that you can do a lot with the combination of thrill, hijinks and dread that come along with an unexpected satchel full of bills.
Writer/director Kim Yong-Hoon pieces together just such emotions with his first feature. A nice guy, a missing person, that bag of cash, a mean tattoo, a lucky pack of cigarettes, a cool title—Beasts Clawing at Straws looks like it has it all.
Telling his tale in chapters that disjoint the narrative into a series of six interconnected plotlines, the filmmaker borrows the cinematic language of Tarantino and the Coens. If you’re going to steal from somewhere, you could do worse.
His pacing, framing, use of color and light all give the film its own swagger, though, and whether you guess where it’s all headed or you don’t, you’re bound to remain interested.
Where the filmmaker really strikes it rich is with this cast. Every actor adds a little exaggerated pathos to the mix as we ascend the ranks of smalltime crooks, each looking to score off another, all of them somehow connected to this stuffed Luis Vuitton bag.
Woebegone and hard-working, Sung-Woo Bae offers the picture an emotional center. But the mid-film entrance of Do-yeon Jean—glorious as ever—gives Beasts new life. She offers the chapters a sleek, devious tone the film had been missing.
Beasts Clawing at Straws offers mainly visceral if superficial thrills, but periodically it does ask us why it is we find ourselves rooting for the baddie. In the world created in this film, good and bad are separated by shades of grey and blood stains and no matter how you define yourself, you’re only one big, fat bag of cash away from finding out the truth.
Available on VOD.
by Rachel Willis
The installation of a state-sponsored satellite dish on the roof of an apartment building is the inciting event for ominous, Orwellian horror in writer/director Orçun Behram’s first feature, The Antenna.
A commentary on the political situation in modern day Turkey, Behram’s debut film is focused on oppression. Though oppression takes many forms (the oppression of youth, the patriarchy, the status quo), the movie is most interested in the state’s suppression of speech and expression.
From the moment the satellite is fitted onto the roof of the building, sinister events occur. A black ooze, which emanates from the antenna, leaks through the walls, something Mehmet (Ihsan Önal), the building’s evening landlord, discovers when he’s called to a tenant’s bathroom to address the seeping goo.
The ooze creeps through the building, infiltrating more and more apartments as the night progresses toward the launch of the new state-run programming.
The kick-off event for the state’s broadcasting system is the “Midnight Broadcast.” Building superintendent, Mr. Cihan, has been advertising it to all the residents to ensure maximum audience participation. The Leader (who bears a certain resemblance to Recep Erdoğan) hosts the broadcast, and while the Leader’s delivery seems benevolent, the underlying message is a sinister reminder that dissent will not be tolerated.
Helping to tie the film’s many many pieces together is Mehmet. As odd and menacing events happen in the hours leading up to the Midnight Broadcast, he becomes increasingly invested in the fates of the residents in his building. Mehmet experiences a few disturbing visual and auditory assaults, all of which propel him to action.
The black ooze is a not-so-subtle metaphor for the insidious nature of state propaganda. But when you want to deliver a warning to your audience, knocking them over the head with the message is sometimes worth doing.
There is a lot working for Behram’s film. As we watch the events unfold, dialogue between characters is replaced by broadcasts from a threatening voice that emanates from every radio and TV. The tense score puts you on edge, and the climax is almost unbearably stressful as the auditory assaults reach their peak.
This is a reminder of what’s at stake when you take your freedom for granted in a world that seeks to rob you of it at every turn.
Available on VOD.
by Cat McAlpine
Liv suddenly stopped speaking when she was young, and no one could determine why, not even her psychologist grandfather Lionel. Now Lionel (Harris Yulin) is at the end of his life, and he has invited fellow doctor Michael (Teddy Sears) to their small island to continue his work with Liv (Catherine Eaton).
And then suddenly, Liv begins to speak again. Instead of circling relevant lines of Shakespeare on a page, she quotes him out loud.
What follows is an exploration of language, human connection, and grief. The harder the world tries to understand Liv, the more alternately chaotic and despondent she becomes. The Sounding is both frustrating and beautiful, much like Liv herself.
Eaton and co-writer Bryan Delaney do a lovely job showcasing the flexibility of Shakespeare’s language. Their script depends on a patchwork of his quotes to achieve any depth of emotion Liv needs. Directed by Eaton, the film has a wild quality often showing a moody sea or softly lit rooms. Yes, Eaton co-wrote, directed, and played the lead in The Sounding. And she’s a true triple-threat, delivering a fantastic performance.
As impressive as Eaton’s dedication to the project is, it’s worth asking if we need another woman who doesn’t or can’t use her own voice.
Although it pulls from many of Shakespeare’s works – quoting everything from Julius Caesar to Midsummer’s play within a play – The Sounding most prominently mirrors The Tempest.
In The Tempest, Prospero and his daughter Miranda flee political persecution to a wild island. There, Prospero discovers Caliban, a native of the island, and he attempts to teach Caliban his ways. But Caliban is wild and cannot control his animalistic tendencies.
Caliban spits back at his teacher,
“You taught me language;
and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse.
The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!”
Liv parrots the same at Michael, furious that he accuses her of not having language. Through her grandfather she’s been taught to use Shakespeare to see the world. In his absence, she uses Shakespeare as much to talk to his memory as she does to speak to the world.
As an attractive white woman stepping into the shoes of a native man who was demonized by his conquerors, the beauty of Liv finding her voice is a little obscured by her parallels with Caliban. How does her damnation or freedom reflect on Caliban’s fate? Likely, viewers won’t worry themselves with the comparison. And, ultimately, it’s up to us to decide if Liv’s unique language is a triumph of a life best lived or a quirky trait that shackles her agency. Either way, she seems happy enough just being herself.
32 Malasaña Street
Now playing on Shudder.
by Hope Madden
What is it about haunted houses that always sucker in big families? We saw it in The Conjuring and The Amityville Horror before it. And now another big old clan is about to regret that bargain dream house over at 32 Malasaña Street.
Albert Pintó’s nightmare follows the Olmedos, who take their two teenagers, their 5-year-old, an aging grandfather, and their shame to Madrid, leaving the country and their old lives behind. But haunted houses smell shame and secrets, don’t the Olmedos know that?
Pintó creates a dreadful, dreamy quality to the haunting, every shot’s framing and color, light and shadow taking on a painterly quality. He conjures a mood, a vintage era where hope and freedom bumped up against tradition and oppression.
The film is set in 1976, and like those other films of dream homes gone wrong, Malasaña creates concrete tension. The first response to any haunting is to just get the F out, but where are you supposed to take three kids and an elderly father? Where’s abuela supposed to plug in his C-Pap? The “down to our last penny and nowhere to go” vibe feels authentic under these circumstances.
But Pintó seems out to do more with the size of the family than simply convince you that thre’s nowhere to go. 17-year-old Amparo (Begoña Vargas) dreams of becoming a flight attendant, of flying up and away from this life, but the house itself is the metaphor for the family as a trap.
Faith and culture beget big families and poverty, and old-fashioned thinking creates monsters.
Where Pintó takes the metaphor is less inspired than it might be. Troublingly, the filmmaker’s throwback vibe retains that old horror trope of the physically disabled character as conduit to the supernatural, and enlightened lip service can’t excuse the way the film falls back on cliches of the monstrous “other.”
32 Malasaña Street sets complicated characters in motion within a familiar world. It just doesn’t use them to tell us anything new.