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From ‘First Reformed’ to ‘Sorry to Bother You’: A midway state of affairs on cinema in 2018

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First Reformed Gotham Awards
A24

“Maybe it won’t be OK.”

The world is hell right now. My life is hell right now. So talking about art, let alone participating in such an insular and silly in-fighting realm as film journalism, can feel futile, let alone irrelevant. But out of ritual, or obsession, or survival, we continue to do it anyway. By some weird sort of coincidence of thought, a collision of confirmation bias and larger anthropological forces invisible without hindsight, 2018’s cinematic output thus far has echoed these fears and frustrations. This is either a gift or an overgeneralized lens through which to view contemporary art. Likely, it’s both.

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is perhaps the most direct and obvious film to tackle this sort of fiery personal apocalypse; Ethan Hawke’s grieving pastor in Upstate New York reckoning with eco-radical terrorism. It’s a fittingly preachy, obsessively Catholic baby boomer descent into the almost mythic purgatory of the very real, very mundane world—a tribute to Bresson’s coarse neo-realism and a necessary referendum on Taxi Driver’s existential bullshit. Hawke gives his first performance to appear distinctly un-theatrical, blending in with the ashes at a toxic waste dump. It is an old man’s film, the sum of its influences, and an aggressively uncomplacent staring contest with global deterioration and communal apathy.

The only other film to match that fury would be Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s authentic, imperfect surrealist deep-dive into racial tensions under late capitalism. Yet, for all its political voracity and infectious wit, I wish the film had been equally as ambitious in its comedic stylings. There should be more memes, more Vines, more Twitter. Despite being miles above pretty much every comedy in recent years, and carrying an undeniably distinctive visual vernacular, the humor feels discordantly grouchy. It is urgent, radical, and exhilarating, but it lacks a certain vitality.

If it feels odd to draw comparisons between such an anti-establishment battle cry and a movie borne from Pepsi commercials, so be it. The excellent Uncle Drew is unapologetically branded content and also a personal, golden-age romp, pragmatic and dumb and oddly affecting. The two films each welcome the audience into their world with ease and clarity of vision. Listen, late capitalism and eccentric, goofy passion projects are weird but fun—just like basketball.

Further radical visions of blackness come to life in essay films like Khalik Allah’s revolutionary, jaw-dropping Black Mother, or the black queer nightclubs of Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown, to the sprawling and ever-elusive rhythms and livelihood of Donald Glover’s Atlanta. Even Zama, Lucretia Martel’s grimly funny, shell-shocked revisionist epic deconstruction of colonialist literature offers something totally separate from the traditional historical visions that so often dominate the multiplex.

Yet the most exciting work I’ve come across this year is Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, her first bonafide masterpiece. Comparisons to Rivette are easy to view shallowly (potentially obtuse, kinetic, theatrically self-consumers), but this goes deeper; Decker is genuinely the first of his descendants, so to speak, to carry on a double-barreled head-trip into aesthetics and dramatics equally. This is as much about performance as it is cinema’s bastard child status as a medium as it is about the state of indie cinema, a first wave of Generation Z, and, above all, a grand bildungsroman. I have genuinely never seen anything like what Helena Howard does here, willing to hone in with a specificity not even granted to the best sociologists on her identity. Through all the film’s engaging with Greek Tragedy (including Caroline Shaw’s mystically composed score), the battles of authorship, exploitation, maternity, and madness, there is a sensitivity and openness, an unmistakable modernity. Madeline’s Madeline is remarkable not just for the facts of what it does, but for how it teaches you to view its slipperiness, how its vibrancy manifest temporally, how it takes those most sensual and concrete pleasures and pushes them towards a work that argues for itself through an intense love and belief into and coming from every single person involved. I’ve rarely seen something so confident and smart and multifaceted and essential out of American cinema.

Paddington 2 and Black Panther are two excellent, classically-minded slices of entertainment, both conservative in their soothing reaffirmations of the troubling and fucked systems of government and societal standards, while still providing deeply progressive, optimistic, and rigorously anti-oppressive sentiment. On top of all that, a portion of Black Panther is set in Oakland, and Paddington 2 has a finale that recalls silent Lubitsch, and those two facts are absolute magic.  

If the aforementioned films are given more leeway in their politik because they so delightfully fulfill their role as pop escapism, the horror genre cannot be afforded that same luxury. Horror is so built on distortions, on the beyond-natural, that it’s rare that a work can be built on that. Something like Hereditary offers a level of disconnect with the real world—as if it exists in old horror movie posters, and no sense of terror, of dread, of inescapable trauma. The First Purge derives all its catharsis from distressingly omnipresent concerns over fascism, liberal passivity, divergence within progressive groups. It’s a “black body genre” film, almost radically militant and still cynically exploitative and messy.

My other sociopolitical horror film of choice from the year came out of nowhere. The wonderfully electric stupidity coursing through Gaspar Noe’s Cannes barnburner Climax comes as one of the more unexpected treats of the year’s festival circuit. Dizzying and dull in equal measure, Noe’s pansexual nightmare treatise on the dissolution of France’s multicultural dream is just smart enough to be both authentically avant-garde and authentically exploitative, an exhausting and trippy dance party that has no right being anywhere near as good as it is. Get woke, fuckers, or the blood will flood the cold wintry streets and blockade the raves inside.

An apocalyptic doom is even echoed in the worst film I’ve seen this year, let alone this decade. Avengers: Infinity War is excruciating, demoralizing, nihilistic, senseless, completely without stakes, basic competence, or a semblance of humanity. I cannot recall the last time I left the theater fuming. The first half of a supposed cumulation of the mostly bland Marvel Cinematic Universe, rarely has a picture been produced with so little internal logic, or a comic book project carried such flagrant disregard for the saga on which it is built. There is not one moment, not one plot point or character arc, not one gesture or shot, with any close to grace or mere functionality. It goes from unpleasant, to baffling, to infuriating, to deflatingly numb, with a climax without gravity or consequence. It is a film that conditions the viewer to feel nothing when presenting the ostensible end of the world. I have rarely seen a crueler picture.

Hong Sang-Soo is experiencing something of a renaissance in the public eye—or as much the prolific Korean writer-director has ever seen in the Western art world. Following the scandalous affair with Kim Min-Hee and last year’s scraggly and ravaging travel opus On the Beach at Night Alone, sandwiched between Grass and Claire’s Camera (both of which are wonderful if minor), The Day After is a film of swirling perspective and internal purgatory. With only a tinny, haunting motif to offer relief on the wonderfully dynamic black and white photography, Hong offers a post-Rohmerian melodrama that avoids self-deprecation and hagiography. Though its conceits are perhaps less explicitly fantastical than, say, the bifurcated dishonesty of Right Now Wrong Then, the slippery timeline creeps through, as characters shift in and out of focus, and parallels within relationships multiply and fracture, infidelity shifting from a classic moral conundrum to a sobering frisson between internal and public perception.

On the other end of the spectrum lies Lars von Trier’s bombastic The House That Jack Built. A cinematic exorcism and gloriously self-indulgent and at least a good bit phony discourse on art as personal violence, the film is meticulously constructed and a total scorcher. Perhaps von Trier is too giddily self-loathing to allow for anything beyond an ego trip, or so unwilling to change—in his art or persona—that this interrogation of von Trier’s filmic grammar plays shallow and tedious. This is to say nothing of the fact that von Trier’s miserabilism, corny humor, and proto-externalist philosophy plays better on a dramatic level than an abstract argument, his body-genre-cum-melodrama power trip. Whatever, though, I still loved it. I found its anguish deeply resonant even more for its irony, its structure continuously evolving and almost meditative, if it weren’t for the amorphous and galvanizing rhythms, a total re-sensitization watch and a fitting eulogy/celebration of the toxic tradition in whose footsteps von Trier has walked, and the shit he’s carried smeared on his shoes.

The male gaze in power, violence, sex, and trauma receives a blow to an already fractured skull with Lynne Ramsay’s razor-thin You Were Never Really Here, an increasingly abstracted deep dive into the dissolution of a culture’s seedy underbelly. Nothing here is empty or fetishistic. Ramsay’s anger fuels a worldview that doesn’t provide moral scolds as much as an inditement of our failure to reckon with pain as a cyclical tragedy. The impressionistic editing hacks the narrative down to only the essential pieces as if you’re witnessing the wake of a film-cum-hurricane. The physicality and abstraction here align nicely with the hyperviolence, creating an experience something close to dissociation. Just to hear “Angel Baby” from Rosie & the Originals cut out with the security cameras, one realizes that You Were Never Really Here is the first of Ramsay’s films to fully encapsulate her full artistic manifesto. Joaquin Phoenix’s central hero, his walk, his torso, his body willing towards sleep. The refusal of present tense and the collateral damage of genre trappings. This is a film that collapses in on itself from practically the first frame.

For all this, the best film I’ve seen is Leave No TraceDebra Granik’s return to cinema after eight years is quietly a perfect movie. Not a moment loses its touch with humanity, even as it becomes a. The ghosts of Kelly Reichardt and Monte Hellman populate the sparse cross-section between the natural world, childhood development, and class-consciousness as Granik’s gentle warm subjective document on the details of parental relationships tessellates outwards into nothing less than a monumental eulogy to how girls learn the world through men, and so much more. Leave No Trace provides neither respite nor release. It is simple here, and now, in a world of a billion little windows with not enough binoculars. We sure as hell don’t need nice right now, or contentment, but a moment of transitory serenity and strength doesn’t hurt.

2018 (alphabetical):

ATLANTA

THE DAY AFTER

FIRST REFORMED

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT

LEAVE NO TRACE

MADELINE’S MADELINE

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

ZAMA

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Trust me when I tell you that you are not prepared to watch the trailer for Tom Hooper’s ‘Cats’

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Cats
UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Today has brought us excellent trailers for films like It Chapter Two and Top Gun: Maverick, so of course Tom Hooper’s adaptation of fucking Cats had to come along a ruin that. I cannot stress enough just how truly annoyed I am by the trailer for this godforsaken movie.

Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage musical of the same name, Hooper aims to “reimagine the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.”

The thing is, though, Cats doesn’t look “spectacular” at all — it looks creepy and dreadful. Like, even more so than It Chapter Two, which is a literal fucking horror movie. The images I witnessed while viewing the trailer will undoubtedly haunt me for the remainder of the day. Especially this one.

However, if this looks like your kind of thing, then good for you! I’m glad there are weirdos out there who enjoy entertaining themselves by watching humans in cat costumes run around on all fours for god knows how long while belting out show tunes. Certainly no judgment from me!

James Corden, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, and Francesca Hayward all star in the nightmare of a film that is Cats, which will hit theaters on December 20.

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Tom Cruise shocks San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H with surprise ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ trailer

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Tom Cruise Top Gun: Maverick
CHRIS PIZZELLO/INVISION/AP

In a surprise appearance, Tom Cruise took the stage during Paramount’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con to debut the first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, the long-awaited sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 original, which finds Cruise reprising his iconic role as Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell.

“For 34 years, you guys have been very patient with me and I felt it was my responsibility to finally really deliver for you,” Cruise told the raucous Hall H crowd after being introduced by Conan O’Brien, who was leading the panel.

He added, “Everything you see in this film is for real. We’re working with the Navy. I wanted to give you an experience of being inside that aircraft,” before later referring to the movie as “a love letter to aviation.”

In addition to Cruise, Maverick‘s all-star cast includes the likes of Val Kilmer, Glen Powell, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Ed Harris, Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman, and Manny Jacinto. Joseph Osinski directed the film from a script written by Justin Marks.

Producers on the sequel include Jerry Bruckheimer for Jerry Bruckheimer Films and David Ellison for Skydance Media. Tommy Harper, Chad Oman, Mike Stenson, Dana Goldberg, and Don Granger are executive producers.

Top Gun: Maverick will fly into theaters on June 26, 2020.

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A new ‘It Chapter Two’ trailer finds the Losers Club facing off against Pennywise one last time

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It Chapter Two Pennywise
WARNER BROS.

Warner Bros. has released the final trailer for It Chapter Two, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Andy Muschietti’s 2017 critically acclaimed box office smash based on Stephen King’s iconic horror novel of the same name.

Set 27 years after the events of the first movie, It Chapter Two stars Jessica Chastain as Beverly, James McAvoy as Bill, Bill Hader as Richie, Isaiah Mustafa as Mike, Jay Ryan as Ben, James Ransone as Eddie, and Andy Bean as Stanley as they return to Derry to confront Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) one last time.

“Something happens to you when you leave this town. The farther away, the hazier it all gets,” we hear an adult Mike say as the trailer shows a flashback from the 2017 film. “But me — I never left. I remember all of it.”

Jaeden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, and Jeremy Ray Taylor will all reprise their roles as the original members of the Losers Club from the first movie.

Muschietti directed It Chapter Two from a screenplay written by Gary Dauberman, based on King’s best-selling 1986 book. Barbara Muschietti, Dan Lin and Roy Lee are producers, with Marty Ewing, Seth Grahame-Smith, and David Katzenberg serving as executive producers.

It Chapter Two will float into theaters on September 6.

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