The BBC’s Greatest 21st Century Films

About a month ago, I heard about the BBC polling 177 critics on their Top 10 Best Films of the Century thus far and putting all their results together to craft a 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century. The list has no been revealed on their site. And now I’m taking a lookseeatit and giving some of my remarks (though I won’t actually be copying and pasting the list here. You can check on that link).

The amount of movies on the list that I haven’t seen is pretty much two.

  • Toni Erdmann (obviously!) – no. 100
  • Son of Saul – no. 34

Which on one hand means I am almost entirely familiar with what they’ve selected to react upon, but on the other disappoints me because I really was hoping this list would introduce titles to me rather than tell how good so-and-so movie I already saw is. For the most part, that’s fine if somewhat a nuisance since I actually really like a good amount of the list, including the number one winner Mulholland Dr. which I’d call an essential watch. The unfortunate thing is that when it gets to movies I don’t care for (like no. 17 – The White Ribbon) or don’t like (no. 20 – Synecdoche, New York) and tries to sell me on their profundity it becomes quite exhausting. But that’ll always be the way you are when people are praising art you don’t care for, no matter how open we are to other perspectives.

I also find it extremely alarming that we have a dearth of animated films represented. There is a whopping total of… 5. Just five animated films. Four of which are Pixar films (no. 96 – Finding Nemo; no. 93 – Ratatouille; no. 41 – Inside Out; no. 29 – WALL-E) and the odd man out is a Ghibli film (no. 4 – Spirited Away). No Laika, no Chomet, no Hertzfeldt, no Kon, among other things (I’d lament the absence of Disney but nobody wants to be Frozen‘s champion except me). It both paints a disinterest in animation as an artform as well as a complete monopoly to the international animation market as well.

In the meantime, despite a hella lot of popular fare, especially Oscar nominees (The Film Experience marked down all the ones that were nominated for Picture, Director, Foreign-Language, Animated or Documentary. By the way, I co-sign on a lot of Nathaniel’s thoughts.), The Lord of the Rings is nowhere to be seen. Which doesn’t disappoint me (if anything it pleases me), but it’s a huge surprise nevertheless. Something that I could honestly have seen going either way is Oldboy (no. 30), The Dark Knight (no. 33), and A History of Violence (no. 55) being the only comic book movies featured on the list (and while we’re at it, Christopher Nolan tie-ing for most featured director – alongside Weerasethakul, the Coens, and Wes Anderson and above Malick, Kiarostami, Tarr, Linklater, and McQueen – it doesn’t bug me in the slightest but I can’t help feeling it is unearned. He is undoubtedly the most populist filmmaker on the list save for Spielberg, though Spielberg features possibly his least populist picture – A.I. Artificial Intelligence no. 83).

The absence of Gravity is flat-out jawdropping (the only Alfonso Cuaron film is Children of Men at 13 which, to be fair, is his best imo). Experiential cinema at its most potent and it’s completely abandoned. That and This Is Not a Film and Taxi (both also absent by Jafar Panahi) hit me as movies very much grounded in the attitude and feel of the century, maps of what can be done with film today. In addition, not a hint of Guy Maddin anywhere and that is very troubling to me.

There’s a much more reasonable number of Black and Female directors and Queer Cinema represented here (though they’re still in the extreme minority to say nothing of other non-white filmmakers or non-Western films). It’s overall a pretty varied list.

Spring Breakers (74) and Dogville (76) can fuck right off, though. And I’m very disappointed in seeing that of all the Scorsese pictures they could have picked, they went with The Wolf of Wall Street (78) in all its completely unfinished manner and not Hugo, which is completely gone. Save for Synecdoche, New York, those are the only ones I don’t like, though there is absolutely a lot I don’t care for to the point that I’d respond to the film’s addition with “… really?” Brooklyn (48), Memento (25), 25th Hour (26), and The Pianist (90) namely. But at least there’s no Whiplash.

Anyway, that’s enough bitching about other peoples’ opinions I will simply close out with this: a friend of mine – I won’t be that name-dropping guy who says who – was one of the critics who submit a list for this poll. Obviously, I’m not a big enough critic to be polled for this, but a lot of unpolled critics in the same circle as him and I began to make our own top ten ballot for the decade and I decided to craft my own as well. So here is mine enclosed so everybody can make fun of my tastes.

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1 – In the Mood for Love (2000/dir. Wong Kar-wai/Hong Kong) – Number 2 on the BBC list
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung make heartbreak look so hotness.

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2 – Moolaade (2004/dir. Ousmane Sembene/Senegal) – Number 58 on the BBC list
A movie portraying all the weaknesses of humanity and all of its strengths as well. I also think African cinema just needs to get more of its due, there’s a rich amount of African filmmakers that turn it up (Abderrahmane Sissako is another filmmaker I am so happy to see on the BBC list).

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3 – Inland Empire (2006/dir. David Lynch/USA) – Not on the BBC list
My resident Lynch choice instead of Mulholland Dr. – though I’m very happy to see it up there – because it feels like the Lynchiest Lynch film ever. Nightmares, women in peril, moviemaking broken down into an incoherent atmosphere, Laura Dern. It has all his ingredients in a 3-hour surrealist experiment.

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4 – The Eagleman Stag (2011/dir. Mickey Please/UK) – Not on the BBC list
Not a single short film on the BBC list either and I mean, that’s expected. Nevertheless the way this short portrays a perspective towards time passing that literally arrests me with fear… I can’t shake it off.

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5 – The Tree of Life (2011/dir. Terrence Malick/USA) – Number 7 on the BBC list
It’s gonna sound like the most pretentious thing to claim that this is the most experiential of all of Malick’s films. But as far as I’m concerned, it is.

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6 – Goodbye to Language (2014/dir. Jean-Luc Godard/France and Switzerland) – Number 49 on the BBC list
Speaking of pretentious. But fuck you, it’s more fun than any other 3D movie you can ever name.

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7 – Yi Yi (2000/dir. Edward Yang/Taiwan) – Number 8 on the BBC list
Them colors and shapes tho.

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8 – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015/dir. George Miller/Australia and USA) – Number 19 on the BBC list
No. No, I think I’m done talking about Mad Max: Fury Road for the rest of my life. If somebody tries to even dispute that it’s one of the greatest things to ever happen to film, I’ll simply shoot him like the dog he is.

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9 – Moulin Rouge! (2001/dir. Baz Luhrmann/Australia and USA) – Number 53 on the BBC list
What’s so funny about a whole lotta spectacle and a whole lotta music?

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10 – The Act of Killing/The Look of Silence (2012-14/dir. Joshua Oppenheimer/Denmark, Norway, and UK)  Killing is number 14 on the BBC list, Silence is not on it.
The first uses cinema as a loaded weapon against history, injustice, and honestly movies themselves. It’s definitely a much more adequate indictment towards violence and the influence of cinema than anything Haneke made. The second simply does its due in recognizing that there’s real-life victims to what was portrayed in Killing and that it’s not just a fucking game. It’s practically Killing‘s antithesis.

And there we are. I also almost put Grindhouse in my ten and THAT’s definitely why BBC ain’t hitting me up.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot – It’s Like a Jungle Sometimes

I haven’t been keeping up with The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot for a mix of reasons – it’s been movies that I mostly haven’t seen except Throne of Blood and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which normally wouldn’t stop me but I’ve been ungodly swamped in work and school to keep me from having time to watch those movies, I’m still using a computer that has so little memory in it that if I told you the amount you’d wonder how it can even run its CPU and I still have no clue how to do screencaps on it. As well as my hopes to leave enough material to jump back on to making it a YouTube series again when I have an editing computer again.

But I saw Nathaniel R. picked the pilot episode of the new Stephen Adly Guigus/Baz Luhrmann/Nas (yes, that Nas) Netflix series The Get Down (the most expensive Netflix pilot to date) and there was no way I was going to miss it. I didn’t buy into the Stranger Things hype very much. It probably doesn’t help that I’m immune to 80s nostalgia. But I’m very much not immune to the mythologizing of the 70s. I’m also not immune to the mythologizing of hip hop. Nor the mythologizing of New York City (I’m sure I may have slipped that it is my favorite city in this country and maybe one of my favorite places in the world). Especially not the mythologizing of East Coast hip hop birthed in pre-Giuliani New York at the end of the 70s, mixed in with motherfucking disco to a point that I can enjoy it as atmosphere without being suffocated by it like I’m watching a Cannon production.

Most importantly, I’m far from immune to Baz Luhrmann’s excessive style of design and direction where in this case he attempts to apply a more grounded form of his Moulin Rouge! for an era and place that could still be remembered by people who weren’t even there and channels it brilliantly into mixing period piece and bombastic celebration of music and progress and dreams. At the same time Luhrmann provided a much more tonally faithful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet than even his 1996 film based on the Shakespeare work (the only Luhrmann film I don’t care for). I’m especially not immune to Stephen Adly Guirgus who is, in my opinion, one of the most talented stage writers of the contemporary era.

It was absolutely the most I ever found myself excited for a Netflix series yet and I decided the moment my friend showed me the trailer in New York earlier this summer that I was gonna watch its pilot the moment it played (unfortunately, I didn’t. I was in the middle of helping out a local film festival and didn’t have time until later that weekend).

Luhrmann always knew how to take pre-existing stories with not an ounce of originality to them (to the point that you could pinpoint what is ripped-off from where) and twist them into bold and bright new looks into the versatility of storytelling and how you could shake things up without changing anything. In The Get Down, what really makes me crazy is how he does it for places and people now. Grandmaster Flash is a larger-than-life figure of fucking legend and we’re meant to look upon him like a Japanese Shogun (especially Shaolin Fantastic is talking about different territories belonging to Flash, Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and so on). The streets are a maze from which to evade the gangs – all dangerous, all out for themselves. The disco halls are both a crime den haven and a magical source of light, music, love, and magic. Even then the halls don’t have both the aggressiveness and freedom of an old school block party.

And keep in mind, it doesn’t feel extra. We’re not looking at a very grandiose piece of work, though it’s very ambitious. But it’s nevertheless exhilarating, even despite it being the most low-key thing Luhrmann has done since Strictly Ballroom and I’d dare to call it even more low-key than that. It works as an argument against the idea that Luhrmann needs garish spectacle to get away with broad emotions (though his editing hasn’t slowed down much, but I like his editing style so… jog on.)

So when Nathaniel asks for a best shot, my response to him has to be “Motherfucker, how about Best Shots in plural?!”. Because I know what my Best Shot is (and knew it even when I was first watching it – playing this game has often made me pick my best shot in movies without even thinking) but my fucking god, it’s too brilliant to not share moments I was digging so much.

Like this obviously superimposed shot yet potent shot in the middle of Shaolin Fantastic’s (Shameik Moore) chase from the Savage Warlords gang as both implying the heat of the moment (Shao’s gonna have to jump across to another building) and portraying the growing bankruptcy of New York as a city.

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Or the absolute lack of subtlety the show has in portraying a do-or-die moment our diehard romantic poet of a protagonist Zeke (Justice Smith) is given, once again by using the decay of the city, though there’s some obnoxiously obvious lighting going on towards the left side of the frame.

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The way Luhrmann can’t help himself from having at least one “part the seas” romantic moment between Zeke and his foil Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola, who unfortunately makes little impression as anything other than a love interest in this pilot. The second episode, though… one word: breakout. Do not hesitate to see it). Complete with colors and dancing and punctuated by a kiss.

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Or the fact that no matter what, the villainous disco gangster still has to be the sexiest motherfucker on the spot. Hence why Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is – by an unfairly large margin even over Moore – my favorite performance on the show as Cadillac, he’s way too much fun every time we see him, even in his despicability and his complete anger every time Shao happens to be in the same room as him.

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Or how even domestic scenes can be absolutely obvious in their imagery and themes because Luhrmann knows subtlety is for people who want to be more than just moved and that’s not what his work is about.

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Or how when a character is important, he has to frame everything and have it all feel like the energy of the moment is coming from him because ladies and gentleman, that Grandmaster Motherfucking Flash (Mamoudou Athie) and if you don’t know him, stop listening to hip hop (the shot is a lot more fun in motion).

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But hell, I said I had a best shot from square one, didn’t I? And I do. And it all revolves around a character I already introduced you to.

Shaolin Fantastic (once again I’m gonna specify he’s played by Shameik Moore) is charismatic as shit to the point that we love him before we even see his face. He’s the first name we hear in the rap concert frame narrative, he’s the most physical character around as he runs and flips and jumps and races, he’s considered a saint of graffiti art (Jaden Smith’s performance in this show is the first time his juvenile profundity is actual given a worthy cushion, largely in the form of his hero worship for Shao) but he wants to be a great DJ instead, and Moore just wants to steal the scene from any moment he can. And he does for the most part, he has tremendous chemistry with every single character he interacts with whether amiably (Zeke, Flash, Fat Annie) or antagonistically (Cadillac, Mylene, Boo-Boo). I tried to watch Moore’s theatrical film debut in Dope but couldn’t finish it. Thankfully, The Get Down covered me with just how much Moore was capable of as an actor and if this does not make him a star, I am going to be very very disappointed.

As characters, Zeke and Shao make a great team of one character’s vulnerable humanity and romanticism and the other’s pure spectacle and energy as the rapper and DJ eager to be the next hip hop lords (Justice Smith is kind of the weakest of the ensemble but he still has hella electricity when he shares scenes with Moore), and yet the show is aware of which character is more attractive to us. Despite establishing Zeke as the protagonist, Shao is the motherfucker we keep coming to see. That’s why Shao gets his first speaking scene with a hero shot:

BEST SHOT

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Backlit and all (the whole scene is gorgeously backlit and had me wondering if it was a studio shot or the sun truly was on their side), so all eyes are on his frame. Even while Flash is speaking to Shao (and is in the shot himself), we don’t care to look at him. The shot gives all its focus on the man standing in the middle ready to bust it. You don’t give a shot like that at the earliest moment we meet him without knowing that it’ll be the audience’s favorite dude.

And it’s even more fun when he leaves.

OK. I’m done gushing. Go watch The Get Down, please just go do it. I love it as much as I loved Sense8 and Jessica Jones. Get to it.

P.S. (and sort of a Pilot SPOILER if you want to watch the pilot before this)
I didn’t think the pilot could possibly make me love it more than I already did and then its penultimate shot reveals MOTHERFUCKING DAVEED DIGGS FROM HAMILTON IS PLAYING ZEKE in the future.

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LAFAYETTE!

X Gonna Give It to Ya

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I’m sure we can claim that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War were always high-concept comic book premises that also had a large amount of fan insistence riding upon their development for a good long while (hell, the road to a Batman/Superman film is a long and interesting one almost as much as the road between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins). But by my count there are only two theatrically-released comic book films that can actually be claimed to be created from the ground up by the very will of the fans who promised by their souls to give all their money to said movie if it existed, because they’re indisputably the reason that movie got to be made by shouting enough. Both films are the absolute definition of Fan Service, top-to-bottom created to please the dollars out of fans’ pockets.

The most recent one is the DC animated feature Batman: The Killing Joke and frankly I found that to be a complete dunce of a picture that competes for the title of worst movie I saw this year. In addition to fast-tracked animation work that feels choppy and flat, a huge schism in its pacing (momentum has always been a problem with the recent DC Animation output because they literally have no idea how a “literature” pace and a “film” pace differ), and the first time Kevin Conroy truly felt too tired to play Batman (Mark Hamill is brilliant, though), the liberties the film takes with Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s original source graphic novel ends up putting a new perspective on material I already found objectionable enough to the point that it’s one of the few Moore works I didn’t like and made it into a nightmare between fan-fiction and a misfire of character motivations. It was a wreck of a movie in every sense.

Thankfully, the other project hoisted up by the will of its fans, Deadpool, is actually quite a success. Not a huge success to me personally, mind you. I grew out of having a love for the sarcastic indestructible “merc with a mouth” before I even graduated high school and I was probably the only person who didn’t give a shit what happened to the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (not that I approved of it – it was a contemptible decision on the filmmakers’ part. I just didn’t care, nor did I pretend that’s the reason it was a bad movie. I called Wolverine bad for other reasons). But when it comes to what the fans demanded out of Deadpool, it absolutely delivered on those things. It was made for a certain type of audience, does everything it can to satisfy that audience, and considering I enjoyed watching it myself, I’d say that earnestness actually gives it a lot of attraction to other viewers as well who might approach the character clean. Fan Service in the most direct sense, nothing less or more.

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“Nothing more” meaning Deadpool is not the “genre-breaking” superhero dissection that some people are eager to call it (and that I still do not believe the genre ever received adequately). A lot of that claim is given over by two elements of its script – that Deadpool as a character is aware of his status as a film character (much like in the comic) and thus addresses the fourth wall many times AND that the movie itself is aware of the superhero tropes that it is walking through like a stepladder, from a backstory involving tragedy to it becoming an origin story of the character with us very easily catching the source of his vigilante moniker to having a character appeal to the heart-of-gold established from the very beginning that he has. That it’s irreverent about its status as a superhero movie does not change the fact that it’s absolutely refusing to subvert any of the superhero formula it subscribes to (even as it swears it did by killing villains, it’s just recognizing that it has obvious casualties as opposed to The Dark Knight having Batman blow up cars in a Chicago parking lot or Daredevil angrily choking a biker with a chain only as a method of tossing him headfirst into a wall and down two flights of stairs, and then turning around and claiming “we’re heroes because we don’t kill”. Deadpool is the most open comic book movie about its protagonist’s willingness to kill since Iron Man had its hero casually shoot down three terrorists with complete confidence that he saved several lives on the spot or Iron Man 3 had the same character look an adversary in the eyes as he blows a hole through his chest telling him to “walk away from that”.)

The origin story in question belongs to Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds, who spent practically the last half-decade trying to make this movie happen as a “passion project” to cover his complicity in Wolverine), a New York based urban mercenary, finding crude, vulgar but nevertheless endearingly sincere love in an escort named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two of them happen to be the same loose-wire sense of crazy for each other (thanks to Reynolds and Baccarin having jawdroppingly amazing chemistry both as romantic and comedic foils, they’re like the grungy version of screwballs; my personal favorite joke in the whole movie is a holiday-based sex montage) to the point that Wade finds himself proposing to her (sweetly with a Ring Pop of all things). Plans get set aside when the couple learn Wade is suffering from terminal cancer. Wade decides to get involved in a shady covert treatment program meant to force Wade via excruciating torture to develop regenerative abilities, but he’s also spitefully informed by his handler Ajax (Ed Skrein looking undeniably like Nicholas Hoult without his long hair from Game of Thrones) that he’s to become a weaponized slave to some undefined masters. It doesn’t matter either way because Wade escapes, but not before he is hideously scarred from the program and begins a personal vendetta hunting down Ajax under the name “Deadpool” and a full red bodysuit.

Still despite not being MORE than a superhero movie where its superhero gets to say “fuck” and “this is a movie” and essentially being fan service, Deadpool is nevertheless an enjoyable piece of breezy entertainment that gets by on simply being something “recognizably different”, if I may. The parts play the same role as every other superhero flick, but the energy is something scrappy and it’s clearly the product of people who wanted to have fun and see how much they could get out of a budget of less than 60 million dollars (relatively pocket change compared to modern superhero budgets). The results are an attempt to hide their limit in action setpieces by setting the first 3/4 of the money in a frame narrative of ADD flashbacks in the middle of a single highway battle (with the script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick don’t really have a real rhythm behind their choice in where to re-enter the fight and when to flashback again, it’s all done through long hauls that make the shifts feel like rude awakenings. And it also happens to be an attempt to hide the movie’s inability to give us an immediate exciting action sequence. But, it is regardless an extremely admirable if not a daring concept) and – to my great joy – the most refreshingly small stakes in a superhero movie I’ve ever seen: Wade wants to go after Ajax because he made Wade ugly. That is THE ENTIRETY of Deadpool’s motivation until an extremely disappointing third act: he’s too scared to reunite with Vanessa because he’s hideous and he’s taking that out on Ajax.

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That almost every single cast member except Skrein – the reliable T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni (including Gina Carano as Ajax’s henchwoman gets at least one comedic moment) – add a complete levity to the scenes they’re in without stealing the show from Reynolds makes Deadpool get away with weightlessness in its plot and lets it satisfy as a lazy-time watch. Stefan Kapičić voices a motion-captured version of Colossus from the X-Men series (which Deadpool belongs to) with a chewy Russian accent and uses to wax rhetoric about heroics to Wade and act boy scout in every manner he possibly can. There’s no way the movie wants to take itself too seriously. It’s too irreverent about itself to the point that it makes more than a few cracks at what little star persona Reynolds has and the general state of the X-Men franchise for 20th Century Fox (ahhhh my close second joke of the film: Wade remarking off-handedly on the correlation of the Xavier Mansion’s size and the presence of X-Men in the movie).

And just as well that Reynolds uses the spotlight on him to let loose, this is the only role other than Buried where I find him really worth watching and that he gets to embody all that juvenile humor fans wanted to see in him without also having Baccarin presence give him an anchor to give Wade humanity. Childish humanity based in smutty dialogue and actions, but humanity nonetheless, all underneath a wonderful mix of CGI and costume design that gives Deadpool a fluid range of cartoony potential without making him feel separate from the world around him (though I find its early dig at Green Lantern for also having a CGI costume – albeit a shitty one – very hypocritical). I say this after being so against his casting as Deadpool before AND after he made Wade Wilson sound like Abed from Community with every line of dialogue he monotonously said in Wolverine. That’ll show me.

That the movie loses steam within its final moments of Deadpool and Ajax’s inevitable showdown was going to be expected (although first-time director Tim Miller shows a lot of promise with the efficiency in which he facilitated Deadpool‘s creation) and that its still essentially one giant movie swearing that butt sex and the word “fuck” can never stop being funny makes it a bit exhausting to someone like me, but not enough that I found myself rolling my eyes or that I didn’t find more than a few moments to laugh heartily at. That Deadpool would have been the anti-superhero movie was too much to expect and never gonna happen, that it ends up a movie that cared enough about itself to make it fun (even if I’d prefer a better, more ambitious movie) is already endearing enough to me, and most of all, that it made the jaw-droppingly huge not-even-funny amount of money it made (surpassing The Matrix Reloaded as the highest-grossing R-rated movie worldwide) shows that sometimes when you give the fans at least the minimum of what they want, you’ll find yourself very much rewarded. That I don’t happen to be a huge fan of the movie and am absolutely not a fan of the character doesn’t make this any less pleasing to me.

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Pulvis et Umbra Sumus

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This review is in part a preview of the 2016 Popcorn Frights Festival in Miami, FL to take place over 12-18 August at the O Cinema Wynwood. The subject of this review Under the Shadow will be playing on the 13 August at 7 pm EST. More information on the festival can be found at their website and Facebook. Tickets for the festival can be ordered here.

It’s a fucking miracle for Sundance. They must feel really good about getting to be the mayor of “I Told You, STinG” Town. Long reliable as a source for mostly indie films that I can’t stand or just don’t buy the hype for since I’ve been bothering to pay attention to movies, suddenly it has given the world three of the finest horror films of the decade for three years in a row: starting with 2014 (which was admittedly a rarity – a surprisingly strong year, I would dare to call Sundance’s strongest) bringing us Jennifer Kent’s Australian spook story about grief The Babadooklast year with Robert Eggers’ Puritan-era family-in-hell nightmare The Witch (although it only just received wide release this year), and now this year with our subject Babak Anvari’s Iranian-British wartime fear flick Under the Shadow.

There’s honestly a lot of similarites I can see in all three films – they’re all outstanding feature debuts of very promising writing and directing talents, they’re all domestic-based dramas that use the tension between a broken family to punish their characters (Babadook and Under the Shadow share it being a mother-child relationship while The Witch has a whole nuclear family to destroy, although there is especially savage hatred between the leading eldest daughter and the matriarch), they feature excitable child characters who are essentially the harbingers of doom before any supernatural element enters (although The Witch promises its horrors are the real deal from the get-go, but those insufferable twins do not make things easy), their leads are frankly outsiders from their local community (The Babadook and Under the Shadow have them close to pariahs, The Witch just starts with them being literally kicked out of a settlement), and we enter their stories shortly after they lost a loved one and are in mourning. And yet aesthetically and even thematically, the three are still strongly distinguishable in their own manner that makes them indispensable genre fare and if I don’t think Under the Shadow is exactly the best of the trio, it’s because of how tight its competition is.

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That outsider central to Under the Shadow, by the way, is Shideh (Narges Rashidi) and she’s the matriarch of a family in post-Revolution Tehran (dialogue in the film implies that it takes place in 1988) that frankly lives like a lot of privately secular households in post-Revolution Tehran – they have a VCR (and a Jane Fonda exercise tape Shideh works out to to really tie in how radical this family is in this atmosphere), they’re not Muslim, and Shideh drives and doesn’t see the need to wear a hijab within her apartment building. That would be enough to put her and her doctor husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) at a difference between at least their religious superintendents the Ebrahimis (Ray Haratian and Aram Ghasemy). The fact that we open the film on Shideh being told she is banned from returning academia due to her political activism during the Revolution, preventing her from being a doctor herself, just gives us reason to know how separated she is from the rest of the city without even learning any of those other facts about them.

Shideh’s hopes on a medical career are apparently informed by the recent loss of her mother, but I may be reading a bit too much into Rashidi’s great performance – one that has a bitter annoyance with everyone who approaches her while she’s still steamed over her life and that can only bite her tongue too long before she becomes too wound up – to say that she has a particular resentment for the idea of being resigned to the gender roles of housewife and stay-at-home mother to their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), with whom Iraj has a much healthier relationship than Shideh. Unfortunately for them, Iraj has been drafted into the Iran-Iraq war that came as a result of the Islamic Revolution (Anvari’s family having gone through the same situation in his youth) and Shideh and Dorsa must live for the time being without him as the glue that keeps the family together. Even more unfortunately, the young and sensitive Dorsa is beginning to talk about seeing the Qur’an-based Djinn (I have trouble explaining them to anybody who isn’t Muslim so please bear with me… they’re beings of smokeless fire that function similar to demons without the “fallen angel” aspect of them) and while Shideh dismisses them as nightmares, Dorsa is taking them very seriously after losing Kimia, the doll Iraj gave her. Most unfortunate of all, I should reiterate THEY’RE LIVING IN TEHRAN DURING THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR while Dorsa’s Djinn encounters are occurring.

That last element is how Under the Shadow truly keeps itself working. Like all good horror films, it’s a slow burn (in this case to the halfway point) before the possibility of any monster assailing Shideh and Dorsa becomes considered a plausible situation and yet there’s a foreboding sense of danger from the very first few frames of the movie. An ominous portrait of the Shah looming over Shideh in an office like its judging her, smoke from an explosion billowing in the distant background seen through a window, tape on their apartment walls, a frequent visit to the building’s basement for the tenants if things get really scary, but it’s worse when you especially know your history – that Tehran was one of the most frequent targets of Iraq’s Scud missiles and expect everything to go to shit pretty soon. Under the Shadow is unfortunately a pure genre picture, so its screenplay doesn’t have room for much for commentary on post-Revolution Iran (which is a shame, Iranian pictures about the Revolution are hens’ teeth – a couple of Makhmalbafs and The Circle are all I know; Persepolis might count coming from an Iranian author but it is technically more a French production.). But Anvari uses that time period for more than just backdrop, it uses every possible chance it can to shoehorn this environment as threatening to Shideh and Dorsa in every sense of the word, compounded by Shideh’s refusal to leave the apartment (despite most of their neighbors vacating AND Iraj’s insistence) probably informed by that same resentment at her current life.

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Hell, Under the Shadow doesn’t even have to wait for monsters to show to become heart-pounding. there’s an early scene where Shideh is fighting to save a man’s life with what medical training she has after he’s had a heart attack from a Scud missile landing but not exploding right in his room and Shideh’s efforts occur in the same room. In a single agonizingly long shot, we have Shideh trying to do what she can but the missile is literally sitting there with more lighting and focus on it so our eyes are on it anyway and just peripherally aware of Shideh’s attempts. We’re just there watching the missile waiting for it to explode, no cuts, no camera movement or change in blocking. It’s a remarkably minimalist attempt at constructing tension on Anvari’s part.

The biggest aid to making this atmosphere of living in an oppressive war zone work to Anvari’s benefit is how absolutely tired the whole thing feels, from the bland and deadened browns and blacks of the family’s apartment that take up the film (courtesy of cinematographer Kit Fraser and production designer Nasser Zoubi) to the casual manner that characters regard their unfair living circumstances (including the death of a relative) to most of all Manshadi’s performance. Manshadi can play scared like all children, but her main demeanor throughout the movie is a kind of neutral melancholy at living with the more severe and grumpier parent of the two and once Dorsa starts suffering from a fever halfway through the film, Manshadi becomes a lot slower and takes more time to be expressive of herself and it’s so effective it made an 83-minute film feel stretched out in all the right ways.

If this review sounded like it was a lot more focused on the set-up part of the film, than the actual frightening pay-off, it’s because Anvari is patient enough to really backlog much of the scares (with some movements and jumps effectively staged by Christopher Barwell to enter shots right before something bad happens plus a hell of hollowed-out sonic tone to the building) to the latter part of Under the Shadow and efficient enough to know when the film should simply bow out (again, 83-minutes is not a lot of time). Some people may find that lopsided in structure, but I think the journey to that finale is too compelling a watch to hold that against Anvari in the slightest, I wouldn’t have it any other way, especially when it lets us keep certain facts about the lore in our mind so that the ending shots are ambiguous in the most alarming manner.

I already had a feeling I was going to like this movie. I am simply a sucker for Iranian cinema (like, I’m literally going to see an Iranian film later today as I said in my instagram) and I’m a sucker for horror based in the psychological and immaterial. But those could still easily go wrong one way or the other and I call a spade a spade and a damn good horror film a damn good horror film. Under the Shadow is a really damn good horror film, one that I can’t wait to watch the rest of America slowly be exposed to, continuing to herald the surprising quality in modern horror films coming from the turn of the decade.

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The 2016 Popcorn Frights Film Festival Short Films

The second annual Popcorn Frights Film Festival – held at the O Cinema Wynwood in Miami, FL – has come a long way from last year’s incarnation as the launching point of South Florida’s resident genre film festival. Whereas last year’s launching of the festival started off with only four features (though one of which was the outstanding cannibal Western Bone Tomahawk – the debut feature of Miami native S. Craig Zahler), this year has 16 features from all over the world (including the breezy Francesca, as I reviewed) to be played over the festival’s run – once again taking place at the O Cinema Wynwood between 12-18 August 2016. Tickets and badges are still selling here, hurry and get ’em and join us! You’ll definitely catch me there.

In the meantime, a hell of a lot of features means a hell of a lot of shorts to accompany those features and your resident horror glut is here to gauge most of them before the festival’s release – courtesy of co-founders and co-directors Igor Shteyrenberg and Marc Ferman – and so behold my capsule reviews:

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Portal to Hell!!! (dir. Vivieno Caldinelli, Canada)
to be played in front of Fear, Inc. on 12 August 7pm

And right at the very start, Popcorn Frights sucks by reminding me how much I miss Roddy Piper, I’m gonna go drink myself to sleep. kicks things off with an outrageous 80’s Lovecraftian homage starring the late and great Roddy Piper sitting in our “Ashley Williams”-esque role, a disgruntled and abused superintendant who discovers two of his tenants opening a gate to the city R’lyeh (from Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu” where the cosmic monster himself is imprisoned). And in terms of being that sort of Stuart Gordon-esque barrage of gore and violence (beginning shockingly with the death of the last character you’d think such a comedy would have the balls to gruesomely murder), it accomplishes that without much more than that sort “fuck the consequences, save the world” physical comedy with some really gooey cartoony blood-letting and mania ejected from all the supporting actors, all of them working on the same level of loud nuisance to Piper’s grizzled performance so none of them really come across as grating in a manner that makes the film exhausting. If there’s one point I have against it, it’s no different than what I have against Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead, where the central book (because of course a Lovecraftian Gate of Hell story will have a book) and the basement where the majority of the short takes place are both transparently too clean and overlit to not come across as obvious props and sets. But that’s the filmmaker in me talking, the viewer in me is literally shirking the rest of my duties in reviewing the rest of the shorts to rewatch this again.

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The Pond (dir. Jeroen Dumoulein, Belgium)
to be played in front of The Blackcoat’s Daughter on 12 August 9 pm

A sophisticated domestic tale whose funereal atmosphere delicately handled by director Dumoulein already gets us ready for a ghost story, before the ghost even becomes a thing until halfway through the film. That atmosphere being the product of some lovely cold blue day photography (intercut with the interior nights of an expected but still tense black and orange) and makeup and costume on Kirsten Pieres, playing an apparently comatose mother of our protagonist Kris (Xenia Borremans) and given a gaunt and bleached-out fatigued look thanks to those elements. It’s enough, alongside Sara De Bosschere’s ominous and menacing presence as Kris’ aunt Jeanne, taking care of her mother, to promise something’s very wrong before the film gets to its full throttle climax where we discover just what lives inside the lake and how it got there. A satisfying, if not revelatory, ghost tale on all fronts.

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Hada (dir. Tony Morales, Spain)
to be played in front of Under the Shadow on 13 August 7 pm

A dark Spanish tooth fairy tale – at least, I’d assume by the presence that the titular monster (Eva Isanta) is essentially the tooth fairy as young Daniel (Fernando Boza) begins the tale by proclaiming his toothache to his kindly grandmother (Silvia Casanova) and the movie almost immediately jumps into his fear of Hada appearing in the dark, making great use of the darkness and having Daniel’s flashlight give abrupt cuts that make Hada’s blinking appearances having more shocking punctuation to them until the end. At 8 minutes (6 1/2 if we don’t count credits), Hada doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to develop itself as a tale so much as just promise something is gonna pop out and spook us in this one-bedroom short, but as it functions well enough as a brief tease before a feature film and a showcase of Morales knowledge on how to build up suspense before the jump-scares to fit snugly before Under the Shadow on the schedule.

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The Birch (dir. Ben Franklin & Anthony Melton, UK)
to be played in front of I Am Not a Serial Killer on 13 August 9 pm

At 5 minutes, The Birch is yet another short film that gets as much set-up as it needs to at the forefront simply to introduce the presence of the ghastly wooden creature itself (created and designed by Cliff Wallace; played by Dee Sherwood Wallace) and bow out after taking a deserving victim. That said, it does get a lot of that done in that compact time – in the form of flashbacks and montage cuts (arranged by Franklin and Melton) so that we actually have more of an idea what’s coming than we did in Hadaeven if the fact that the monster is there to avenge our bullied protagonist Shaun (Aaron Word) domesticates it way too much to let it be terrifying on its own terms. It doesn’t stop it from being a neat little skit (too damn neat at some points, once again we have an unholy book centered and once again it looks like it wasn’t even once opened in its life until Shaun receives it) that I could easily see as being the pitch to a future live-action film with this very same monster.

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Pigskin (dir. Jake Hammond, USA)
to be played in front of Antibirth on 13 August 11 pm

I know this is almost entirely unfair of me and probably the result of being in the middle of watching Stranger Things, but after so many 80s throwback films and tv shows all of which portraying a time period I’m not at all nostalgic about, it’s too easy for me to say I am now in the throws of 80s throwback fatigue. And given that Pigskin is a product of Florida State University’s Film Program, the very same program that produced David Robert Mitchell so recently – director of It Follows – I especially can’t help unfairly seeing so many similarities between the two beyond the 80s throwback aesthetic, in the timid shy performance of our high school girl lead (Isadora Leiva), the John Carpenter homage synth score by Charles Harvey Spears, and even the very premise establishing itself based on our lead seeing a deformed monster following her that no one else can see. The fortunate fact is that even an anti-80s cynic like me can find a lot of merit in this short, like the fact that the score is absolutely catchy, the film is shot with a light fading of color to mete out whites and blues so that it actually looks like a nostalgic old photograph against its high school setting surrounded by football players and cheerleaders, and not least of all how co-writers Hammond and Nicola Newton use this to provide a commentary on female body image and the unhealthy expectations placed upon it, while using that as a platform for some close-up finger-scratching skin-tearing madness that made yours truly look away from the screen. I may be tired of the way it does these things, but it nevertheless does these things well and I can’t imagine any modern audience not getting to eat this up in the wave of 80s throwback popularity.

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FUCKKKYOUUU (dir. Eddie Alcazar, USA)
to be played in front of Evolution on 14 August 7 pm
(it is also available for free on Vimeo and given the strong nature of its content – NSFW doesn’t even fucking cut it – I would recommend taking a peek at it if you’re having doubts but are still curious, but if you can take it, I implore you to watch it on the big screen during Popcorn Frights)

Absolutely the most popular of the short film batch we have here, FUCKKKYOUUU came riding on a murderer’s row of laurels, not least of all being its status as an Official Selection of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. And even if it didn’t have these things behind it, the fact that hip hop producer and DJ Flying Lotus himself supplied the score and sound design for the film would be enough to make it stand out (full disclosure: I am a very rabid fan of Flying Lotus). That still didn’t prepare for a movie that tosses around time travel, body horror, and… monster coitus (?) for a wordless display of a being (Jesse Sullivan)’s struggle with identifying her gender, sexuality, and all the other things that make her a person. The film that carries all this density in its images and sound based presenation is impeccable as well, shot by cinematographer Danny Hiele in beautifully grisly black and white with enough contrast to the Panavision film used to catch the grain without obscuring the images and cut by director/writer Alcazar himself with a frenzy meant to disorientate us as much as the being itself (though Alcazar does also have a sense for serene rhythm in an embracing moment of white light smack dab in the middle of the short). That I’m meant to find more of this nauseating than transfixing is only brought back to me by the film’s aggressive closing title itself, but I can’t say it’s for everyone either. It’s certainly a provocative film, but one with something behind its provocation that I find unlimited merit in, so a cautious recommendation it is, but one for a film I’m deeply affected by.

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The Puppet Man (dir. Jacqueline Castel, USA)
to be played in front of The Mind’s Eye on 14 August 9 pm

This is more a glorified music video to John Carpenter’s first non-soundtrack music album Lost Themes (with even Carpenter himself making a big damn “hey kids it’s John Carpenter” cameo) than a homage to his style. Largely because Castel’s editing – which does something confusing with either its chronology or its sense of location – really misses how to have a real physical sense of the bar where the titular supernatural killer (Johnny Scuotto) takes its prey (it’s also extremely confusing as to the identity of the killer or its status… I feel this is a short that could have afforded to be just a few minutes longer to figure itself out). But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s FUCKING. GORGEOUS. with all of the visual designers – Art Director Eva Tusquets, Costume Jenni Hensler, Production Designer Zev Deans, and cinematographer Castel herself – in synchronized compliment to each other based on solid splashes of the primary colors (especially reds and blues) to give the whole thingy a dreamy quality that lets it get away with trivialities as little of it making much sense. Hell, look at that shot right there, perfectly backlit and foggy to give the Puppet Man such an out-of-this-world stature. When you look this good, who needs chronology?

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Blight (dir. Brian Deane, Ireland)
to be played in front of Devil’s Doll on 14 August 11 pm

I’m way too atheist to be remotely frightened by demon possession stories (I mean, never say never – those Conjuring films standout amongst recent entries in the genre as instant classics… but yeah…) and I’ve seen way too many demon horror films involving pregnant women to be remotely surprised by the final moments of this film. I’m not gonna lie and say I was very well impressed with Blight, especially when it devotes itself in the middle with shock content that doesn’t move me. What I can say is that it at least carries itself with an extremely enviable sophistication, at lot of which we are to thank George Blagden’s patient performance for. It’s irritating in its confidence without telegraphing anything really less than earnest in his character of Father Carey until the film tries to pull the rug out from under us. He is absolutely the best thing going on here and while it isn’t much, the movie around him isn’t exactly breaking down. It’s just there’s not much to remark upon except him.

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Disco Inferno (dir. Alice Waddington, Spain)
to be played in front of Francesca on 15 August 7 pm

I have a really good feeling that I would love Disco Inferno much more – and before I state this: I fucking loved Disco Inferno. I replayed it three times and it may be my favorite of all the shorts here – if it made two changes: one would be that all the spoken dialogue were overdubbed Spanish or Italian and the other being that its last scene simply didn’t exist as it dips its hand into a more obnoxious form of comedy than the more subtle humor the short was already indulging in. In the meantime, what we still have is absolute fun with classic silent horror films tropes – especially in our heroine (Ana Rujas) evoking the hell out of Irma Vep in her get-up and confident presence – and occult imagery in service to a film that feels like 1/2 caper and 1/2 Guy Maddin-esque ritual. And that’s without talking about how cliched yet nevertheless believable its setting and costumes are as we are introduced to the Satanic sacrifice to our character is to crash. And THAT’s without talking about when the movie turns everything it introduced to us on its head. It’s just a really fun piece of work and I’d love to see what Waddington does with a feature film sometime real soon.

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The Maiden (dir. Michael Chaves, USA)
to be played in front of Abattoir on 15 August 9 pm

This short film’s greatest strength is also its greatest Achilles Heel. The Beckett Mansion, which even plays itself in this film if we are to go by an annoyingly on-the-nose monologue by Lucy (Alia Raelynn) that goes on for no more than ten seconds but feels longer (though the movie seems aware of this by having the character she’s saying it to regard incredulously that I’m not sure it’s not a parody moment), is too damn famous as a landmark of Los Angeles to pass as a house to buy and sell on the market that happens to also be a huge fixer-upper. This is unfortunate because this short REALLY knows how to use its angles and cuts to bring out a hell of a lot of character in the place and make it obvious it’s the real star of the short. If you are willing to shake that off like I was for much of the film (it helps that most of it takes place INSIDE the mansion rather than outside), we still have a hell of an effective horror short that fights with Disco Inferno for the title of my favorite of the slate. One that completely uses ghost story cliches intelligently nevertheless as well as even giving into to indulging itself in a climax that totally homages Sam Raimi (right down to dynamic camera movements) and having Raelynn give a great everywoman performance bouncing between fatigue towards the supernatural around her and transparently fake but still desperate eager beaver Real Estate Agent attitude. Oh and Penny Orloff as The Maiden is frightening even when all she does it really stand there in scary old lady makeup (semi-relevant: I found out that she is 5’3″. The movie – especially in its penultimate shot – used its perspective to trick into thinking she was towering. Well done.)

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Gwilliam (dir. Brian Lonano, USA)
to be played in front of The Barn on 16 August 7 pm

Man, it’s not that Gwilliam doesn’t do what it wants to. I’m sure it’s usage of a cheap doll to portray its central creature is deliberate, right down to an extremely game William Tokarsky (of Too Many Cooks fame and I’m almost certain the same cult audience for that short is who this movie is aiming for – though I happen to be a fan of that short and look at me) having to move the doll around to make it look like it’s forcing itself on him (and that’s not close to the worst this short puts him through). I’m sure the completely gross-out humor down to sickening close-up shots as well as a really dangerous use of anatomy as warning is completely what the movie is absolutely proud to sink down to. I’m sure the completely rapey vibes of the whole thing is as deliberate as the eroticism of its central act (which to its credit… editor Kevin Lonano, the younger brother to Brian, does really well to set the tone of each moment in this short which is undoubtedly what makes its humor work insofar as for its target audience). I’m even sure it’s meant to provoke as much the annoyed attitude I have towards it as it is to get belly laughs from the people who enjoy this type of thing (I mean, using Gaspar Noe-esque credits like this short does pretty much is a dizzying “Fuck you” to anybody who isn’t on its wavelength.

But it ain’t my jam and I’m good, man. I’m fucking good, dawg.

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Mayday (dir. Sébastien Vaniček, France)
to be played in front of Daylight’s End on 17 August 7 pm

And yet I jump into yet another extremely unpleasant film to sit through, possibly moreso than Gwilliam as Mayday edges through from its bitter and smug cynicism to its complete lack of characters we can’t help but find repulsive (save for one woman whose only purpose in the film is to be fondled and die, not necessarily in that order. This is a very male-oriented picture, but then again its aware of that). One of those characters, whom we are meant to identify as the protagonist (though early on the movie makes the mistake of focusing briefly on another character) is Michel (Remi Paquot). Michel’s first act in the film is to masturbate in the lavatory of a plane and we are later to discover that he’s on that plane chaperoned by a US Federal Agent (Akil Wingate) on extradition from an unknown country (though given that Arabic and French are amongst the languages spoken on the plane, I’m assuming its a North African Maghrib country – Algeria, Tunisia, or Morocco… oh fuck, they dragged my Algeria into this) for charges of rape. Very soon it is established that Michel and the rest of the inhabitants of this plane keep encountering a fatal dose of turbulence, though they keep reverting back a few minutes before the plane comes apart. Michel seems to be the only character aware of this happening and the film is gamely ambiguous about whether or not these repeated scenarios are his hallucination, an ability to foresee the future, him traveling back in time, or whatever. Either way, he is absolutely suffering in the middle of his punishment for being a rapist and I have the feeling the movie with its tone of paranoia and claustrophobia (both of which it does really well and it should really be no surprise coming from a French production that seems to takes it leaf off the old New French Extremity movement) that we’re meant to feel sorry for him being surrounded by such hard asses and assholes (the Agent himself is really eager to tear him one), but it’s just hard to enjoy a film like this that smiles at you while it feels superior for having a character give into his most vile inhibitions by the end of it (something spelled out by the very end credits song performed by Sexy).

Same as Gwilliam, I am fucking good, man.

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Manoman (dir. Simon Cartwright, UK)
to be played in front of Pet on 17 August 9 pm

A short that may actually give FUCKKKYOUUU a run for its money as most popular on the slate, Manoman has its own stack of laurels to display, the most impressive being its status as a 2015 BAFTA nominee for Best British Short Animation. It also gives The Maiden and Disco Inferno their own run for my favorite of the bunch and a lot of that is from how it’s able to do what Mayday wanted to do without being so… crude. Crude not to mean vulgar here because Manoman has plenty of vulgarity to spare, but in its ability to go about a sophisticated (if still on-the-nose) manner in communicating our protagonist Glen’s dilemma. See, he’s really not much of a man as far as he sees and the design of his puppetry adds to that by making him look like the most fucking pathetic thing in his shape of his head and the shrinking of his facial features, his eyes far away from each other, his nose sloping down… and then makes him far from special by giving every other person around him the same features. One of my favorite elements of this short – besides the detail of the dreary set design in its artifice – is its decision to let us see the rods controlling the puppets as thought their lives are literally out of their hands (and at one point Glen’s rods are completely in another characters’). He’s completely limp as a person until suddenly all his inhibitions come in the form of a small gremlin that looks like him if he gave his DNA to Danny De Vito and a version of him that… literally has balls. Ah yes, what big balls it has, especially in the dreamy final backlit shot involving a golden shower to a religious hum. Anyway, this gremlin lets Glen do all the things he’s ever wanted to do and together they set the world ablaze with their mania. It’s a flipping hilarious short of physical comedy that deals with the inner commentary and esteem issues a person puts himself through though it gives a heavy reminder of the consequences of such a toxic sense of masculinity. If I have a problem with it, it’s that I really wish we didn’t see the Gremlins’ rods as he’s obviously supposed to be the one out of control and I do think its ending (not the Golden Shower element, but the moment before) seems too moralistic as to feel safe in a manner Mayday dared to eschew. But so much of Manoman is working on a register I love, that it’s all over before I give my protests after laughing too hard.

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Iris (dir. Richard Karpala, USA)
to be played in front of Man Vs. on 18 August 7 pm

A BIG NOTE: The cut I witnessed had a still unfinished sound mix, it would only be fair to acknowledge that I had not seen the Final Cut by any means and to keep that in mind in my opinion towards the film (especially since it promised interesting ADR work with its title A.I. voiced with complete detachment by Michelle Strickland).

That said, the whole short itself didn’t strike me in its premise as much more than a low-grade Twilight Zone episode, taking the most technophobic possible target it can: a transparent Siri copy, especially in its amalgram name, to the point that it really didn’t need an opening Steve Jobs conference-esque moment announcing it to an audience that’s absolutely familiar with these sort of things in their smart phones now. Beyond that, it at least has some lovely naturally lit landscape photography of the Colorado Mountains going for it, as long as it’s not a close-up of Luke Sorge – the only physically present actor as a hitman who’s using his Iris phone to help him bury a body and arrange his payment – as Karpala and cinematographer Nikolai Galitzine prove unable to even adequately light Sorge’s face so that we can see some of his expressions and facial emotions. The poor guy is obstructed as all hell. That as well as how Iris quickly runs out of footage to use, using the same shot of the Iris phone sitting on a log as an insert. Iris can’t interest me with such a lacking ability to portray its human element or its craft against its cold Artificial Intelligence element, especially when it’s a story trying to tell us how much more sinister a computer can be than a murderer when it applies itself.

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Night Stalker (dir. Mike Anderson and Ryan Dickie, USA)
to be played in front of Beyond the Gates on 18 August 9 pm

Hey, The Puppet ManNight Stalker will see your gorgeous use of color and raise it not only by invoking shadow as an element (though it doesn’t have the same solid block of hues as The Puppet Man does) but also by indulging in stop-motion animation with gruesome elements that call back the work of the Quays and still match that heavy blue and red lighting while establishing gloomy modes rather than slasher dangers. All in service to an even more inscrutable narrative, though the gist I get is some sort of twisted romance between characters played by Maya Kazan (yeah, she’s from THAT Kazan clan) and Keenan Mitchell partly fueled by some sinisterly tainted Chinese food. Anyway, given the hallucinatory nature of this film, it only fits that so much of it seems wild and unable to fit together, but if I can’t connect with this film on a narrative or thematic level, I can still indulge in how impressive it is as eye candy and its quick and breezy energy towards itself. It’s an easily likable short, whether or not you can read much into it.

And there we have it, the majority of the short films to be played at the 2016 Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Thanks again to Igor and Marc and all the filmmakers who made these shorts and features and, once again, if any of you readers happen to be in Miami and any of these films sound like they tickle your fancy, you still have time to grab tickets for the festival’s run here and I hope to catch you all there soon at O Cinema Wynwood.