Film Reviews

What We Saw: A Film Section Roundup

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Hello friend, it’s been a few minutes, hasn’t it? Well, just because we haven’t spoken doesn’t mean we stopped watching movies. Now that the magazine formerly known as Crossfader has made its official transition to Merry-Go-Round Magazine, we are back to provide you with this one-off mini-review listicle. Read our thoughts on everything we’ve watched during our hiatus!

film roundup The Predator

THE PREDATOR

Director: Shane Black

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

The various attempts to follow-up 1987’s PREDATOR have struggled to strike a balance between the original’s gung-ho, action hero cast and the slasher villain that stalks them. Perhaps the best aspect of Shane Black’s take on the franchise is that it confidently places all its chips in one corner. From the opening shot, THE PREDATOR tosses all pretensions of horror out the window when it establishes our titular extraterrestrial as a bona fide character, rather than another invisible boogeyman. Make no mistake, as entertaining as the movie’s human leads are, the real stars here are the aliens. THE PREDATOR’s main hook isn’t our heroes’ struggle to slay the beast, but rather the brutally efficient, and often darkly comedic, means with which the monster dispatches the hapless goons caught in the crossfire. This role-reversal, along with Black’s signature potty mouth, marks a bold departure from previous Predator movies. Tonally, THE PREDATOR is from a different planet than its namesake, but when viewed as an action-comedy, it excels with top marks. Raunchy, irreverent, and bloody as all hell, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better popcorn flick. [Ed Dutcher]

film roundup Mandy

MANDY

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Genre: Action

Panos Cosmatos has crafted a film unlike any other, a vision so pure of intent as to exist outside the whole of modern cinema: a hypnotic, hallucinatory Passion Play, equal parts Heavy Metal magazine and too-much-cough-syrup fever dream. MANDY, of course, has been widely hyped for Nick Cage’s supremely unhinged performance, but what is more impressive is how touching, even confessional, he is as Red Miller, a soft-spoken lumberjack who wants nothing more than to spend his days with his beloved Mandy. Inevitable GIFs aside, it is thrilling to finally see Cage in another role where he can fully flex his dramatic chops, grounding Cosmatos’ lurid impressionist hellscape in something heartfelt and real in the process. Similarly, Andrea Riseborough’s Mandy, whose haunting beauty and otherworldly presence foretell her fate long before it unfolds, and Linus Roache’s howling, Manson-esque Jeremiah Sand elevate the film into something of a parallel universe Shakespearean tragedy. Reaching beyond pulp, through the ethereal, MANDY grasps for the monumental. How successful it is in that regard will vary from viewer to viewer, but what is already clear is that this film will stand as a midnight masterpiece. [Joseph Simpson]

film roundup The Nun

THE NUN

Director: Corin Hardy

Genre: Horror

It’s the rare movie that fails to surprise or disappoint in equal measure, but I assure you, THE NUN is almost exactly like you picture it. The acting? Passable! The runtime? Short! The scares? Actually, more predicated on gothic atmosphere than expected, but chock full of jumps as well! If you’re looking to crack open a few cold ones and spend a spooky time at the movies, I don’t know what else you could possibly be turning to on the current release slate, and if you’re an Ari Aster or Osgood Perkins stan, you already know you’re going to hate it! The one larger compliment I can give it is that it’s refreshingly self-contained and doesn’t fumble setting up a mythos for sequels like the dreary Annabelle films, and at the end of the day it confidently owns its energies as a fun-enough Fall indulgence. I try to avoid dismissing horror as only being able to be enjoyed by its pre-supposed fans, but THE NUN unapologetically preaches to the choir. There’s no reason to not enjoy the sermon if you’re part of the congregation, though! [Thomas Seraydarian]

film roundup Hold the Dark

HOLD THE DARK

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Genre: Thriller

I don’t think Jeremy Saulnier knew where to begin with his latest Netflix exclusive, HOLD THE DARK, a pseudo-intellectual crime drama that’s more stiff than hard. Perhaps what’s most unusual is that no physical encounter actually feels essential to the progress of Saulnier’s story, something unbecoming of a director who has literally made his name by framing elegant, plot-driven action. It’s at this point that you begin to recognize how important Saulnier is to his own screenwriting process. As the first film he has not written, you can really sense that he had no idea how to wrangle HOLD THE DARK’s disparate threads. With BLUE RUIN and GREEN ROOM, Saulnier set a precedent that his career would be defined by deft genre-thrills. HOLD THE DARK is such a massive step down, both in terms of raw fun and kinetic energy, that it might as well be someone else’s work entirely. What we’re left with instead is an arduously moody, self-serious trek that gets lost within its own wilderness. For a film starring Jeffrey Wright as a wolf-hunter, this is pitifully drained of any sense of fun. [Sergio Zaciu]

film roundup The Sisters Brothers

THE SISTERS BROTHERS

Director: Jacques Audiard

Genre: Drama

Sometimes all a film needs is a strong moment to rope you in. For THE SISTERS BROTHERS, Jacques Audiard’s first foray into the English language, it’s a nighttime gunfight, with each pull off the trigger illuminating the location of the shooter. Admittedly, a great moment does not a good movie make, but I’ll be damned if these aren’t the things we look for in the modern western: new ideas on worn terrain. The ultimate misfortune of THE SISTERS BROTHERS is that its source material might actually bear more fruit than Audiard’s ultimately picked. Once you start to pick apart the bones of Audiard’s film, you begin to realize that there’s not much meat holding it together. There’s no juicy fight scenes, no groundbreaking dialogue, and no outlandish external conflict. Ultimately, THE SISTERS BROTHERS is just another “one last job” story. But still, after all these complaints, I want to close this all off by reminding you that a good western is hard to come by, and THE SISTERS BROTHERS is nothing if not a good western. [Sergio Zaciu]

film roundup Climax

CLIMAX

Director: Gaspar Noé

Genre: Drama

It’s known that Gaspar Noé loves his position as posterboy for French neo-extremism. And while CLIMAX struts through the provocateur’s well-trodden territory of violence, incest, abortion, and drugs, the film’s unceasing kinesis keeps audiences from looking away from the stomach-churning debauchery on display. Shot within 15 days with a five-page script, Noé’s signature swirling, intimate camera uses uncomfortably long takes to follow a group of 20-plus dancing French libertines as a whodunit of LSD-spiked sangria turns their studio into a bizarre Klimovian torture chamber in real time. Dazzling choreographed synergy and contact improv sensuality seen in the breathtaking opening dance number devolves into French mob justice as brutal as it is blind, all as the ever-present electronic beats continue to blast on. CLIMAX is just as self-indulgent and exploitative as Noé’s previous work, but there’s enough going on under the viscera to satisfy anyone brave enough to watch. [Alec Larios]

film roundup Bradley Cooper

A STAR IS BORN

Director: Bradley Cooper

Genre: Drama, Romance

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, A STAR IS BORN, never strongly proves itself—the actor turned TIFF-adored auteur approaches the seminal tale more as a self-fulfilling rite of passage than a story demanding to be told in 2018. This is a Cooper vanity piece of the most egregious caliber, and yet the craft is so alluring, his and Gaga’s presences so rapturous, and the editing so adventurous that it’s impossible to deny A STAR IS BORN’s pleasures. Lady Gaga, the bland Björk America deserves, is maybe a little too proud to unfurl her superstar defenses, but every stare down the barrel of the lens is a goosebump-inducing spectacle in and of itself. She’s the object of Awards Season attention, but it is, surprisingly, Cooper’s work as a barely functioning addict that sticks; his performance’s delicate mix of inviting gregariousness and utter desolation breathes richly harrowing tragedy into the tired rise-and-fall plot and gives you the nauseous realization that, oh my god, dear god no, Bradley Cooper is a triple threat. Ugh. It’s singing a familiar tune, but hits are hits for a reason. [Kevin Cookman]

film roundup Beautiful Boy

BEAUTIFUL BOY

Director: Felix Van Groenigen

Genre: Drama

You could look at a picture of a person’s face for hours and you’d still never be able to see the back of their head. Try as we all might, we can never fully know the heart and mind of another person. BEAUTIFUL BOY captures this feeling intimately. Steve Carell, as David Sheff, struggles with the limitations of the “picture,” how he can have an image in conflict with his son Nic’s reality. In turn, Timothée Chalamet makes Nic into an equal blend of frustrating and heartbreaking. It’s these more abstract constructions that show the strength of the project. When in a fit of grief David hides all the photos of Nic in his office it’s because he can’t handle a fundamental incongruity between what he believes and what he sees. This is a casting aside for the audience too, the easy plot-driven answer, guided by emotive music and on-the-nose dialogue, not ever able to capture the real thing. The picture could never be enough, and when BEAUTIFUL BOY finally accepts that, it finds the more uncomfortable and moving truth. [Ian Campbell]

film roundup First Man

FIRST MAN

Director: Damien Chazelle

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi

It is with a heavy heart that I declare the new film by the guy who directed my favorite films of 2014 and 2016… average. Coming from the likes of Damien Chazelle, average just doesn’t cut it. FIRST MAN is not bad, but if the film had maintained the momentum of its show-stopping opening, it may have been exceptional. Technically speaking, it’s immaculate—from the practical in-camera effects to the grainy 16mm cinematography that eventually gives way to a WIZARD OF OZ-esque opening into IMAX 70mm when the film (inevitably) reaches the moon. The intent of evoking 1960s cinema verite is a noble intellectual effort that makes me want to like the film more, but style only takes you so far, and within the well-worn genre of NASA films, everything this film does right, Kaufman’s THE RIGHT STUFF does better. If anything, the biggest revelation is that Chazelle’s cinema has made me care far more about a middle-class drumming student than a man walking on the moon. [Reid Antin]

film roundup The Kindergarten Teacher

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER

Director: Sara Colangelo

Genre: Drama

A powerful and worthwhile remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, Netflix’s 2018 Sundance acquisition, THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER, tells the story of a woman who discovers that one of her pupils has an incredible gift for poetry. Anchored entirely by Maggie Gyllenhaal’s amazing performance and the assured hand of sophomore director Sara Colangelo, this quiet picture of a woman’s midlife crisis boasts a sledgehammer third-act gut punch, and packs every crevice of its lean 96 minutes with hope, despair, passion, and regret. Although its third act is likely to go a little too off-the-rails for some, one must admire Colangelo’s empathy for her broken characters. It’s not exactly a memorable film, though it certainly leaves a lasting subconscious impression. I’m not sure how I feel about American indies simply remaking foreign indies, but if you’re going to do it, then at least make sure that the elevator pitch is as good as this one. [Sergio Zaciu]

film roundup Bad Times at the El Royale

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

Director: Drew Goddard

Genre: Drama, Thriller

One female foot away from being a full-blown Quentin Tarantino rip-off, BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE can be summed up as the over-medicated offspring of FOUR ROOMS and THE HATEFUL EIGHT. The film follows four guests and a bellhop at the titular motel, each with their own secret, as their disparate arcs become entangled into an ultimate bloodbath. While Tarantino was able to effectively guide his group of strangers to their terminus within a similar runtime in HATEFUL EIGHT, EL ROYALE gets lost along the scenic route. A promising first act quickly gives way to a tangled web of B-plots that eventually overtake the far more interesting initial premise. Making the situation worse, every scene is bookmarked by a flashback, title card, or cutaway, turning what could have easily been a breezy 90-minute jaunt into a slap-happy slog. If you’re like me and can’t look away from the dumpster fire that is Jon Hamm’s post-MAD MEN filmography, wait for it to pop up on streaming. If you’re anyone else, save yourself from a bad time. [Ed Dutcher]

film roundup Private Life

PRIVATE LIFE

Director: Tamara Jenkins

Genre: Drama

Modern medicine is a wild beast, one that drives our selfish desires to do the impossible. Destined to go down as one of 2018’s great overlooked gems, PRIVATE LIFE is scripted with the razor-sharp elegance of a Baumbach, but delivered with a sincerity and restraint that feels more becoming of Payne. Brought to life by a killer ensemble and the deft hand of director Tamara Jenkins, this is an insanely complex moral balancing act, a wire trapeze of selfish conflicts of interest. The way Jenkins frames her narrative around the ethically icky, arguably selfish desires of prospective parents is relentlessly profound. Each scene is imbued with such precise indictments, never siding completely with one character. Jenkins understands everyone in this film, and thanks to this unbiased approach, a character doing something wrong really becomes a thorn in the viewer’s side. Jenkins understands the hop-scotch game of comedy and melodrama like a tried and true veteran. Rarely have I dared compare a film to the work of Asghar Farhadi and Whit Stillman in one go, but this might be it! [Sergio Zaciu]

film roundup Suspiria

SUSPIRIA

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Genre: Horror

The terms “horror” and “polarizing” are two peas in a pod. Find me a great horror film and I’ll show you a detractor. Since the turn of the millennium, it appears naysaying has become all the more en vogue. The recent renaissance of the festival horror darling has hyped up everyone and their mother for even the smallest of indie pictures. So leave it to Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA, a film with not a single pull-quote in its trailer, to blow all of these films out of the water. I’m not going to mince words, SUSPIRIA is one of the best remakes of all time, and easily one of the best films of the 2010s.

A stylistic mosaic of Kubrick, Roeg, Lynch, DePalma, and Obayashi, SUSPIRIA feels distinctly independent from Argento’s classic, and all the better for it. Opting out of the intense primary colors of the original, Guadagnino has crafted a Satanic masterpiece. It’s an ongoing nightmare that never stops zooming, panning, tilting, and dissolving, embracing the tenets of ‘70s cinema with a grizzly smirk. SUSPIRIA is a gore film, an atmospheric chiller, a hallucinogenic fever dream, and a gloomy mystery all at once. It’s a mean film, and quite possibly the single greatest remake of all time.

If MOTHER! was polarizing because of its lazy thematics and HEREDITARY didn’t impress because of its last-minute gear shift, SUSPIRIA can reign supreme as the only horror film in decades to commit fully to every devilish nook and cranny. Not since THE SHINING have I felt such a visceral reaction from a woman’s scream. From its Freudian ecstasy to its Japanese stylings, SUSPIRIA has it down pat: practical gore, CG blood sprays et al. There’s nothing quite like it. See this one in theaters before a home viewing does it any injustice. [Sergio Zaciu]

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