Flashes back and forth in time, so I didn’t realize the two lead actresses on the poster art are both Julieta: younger Adriana Ugarte and older Emma Suárez (she worked with Julio Medem in the 1990’s).

Julieta hears word of her missing daughter Antía from a mutual friend and abruptly breaks contact with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Talk to Her star Darío Grandinetti, looking exactly the same), moves back into her old apartment building and writes a long letter to Antía explaining past events: meeting Antía’s dad Xoan, his affair with artist Ava (Blancanieves star Inma Cuesta) and their argument just before he died at sea while Antía was at camp. After her daughter disappears, Julieta makes up with Ava, waits and searches for Antía, and anyway there’s more, it’s a complicated movie, but it has a happyish ending and everyone’s just wonderful in it, and it’s particularly nice to see Rossy de Palma again (as a suspicious housekeeper). Didn’t make Cinema Scope’s year-end list, but I liked it more than The Ornithologist. I got a long way to go if I’m gonna be a celebrated art-cinema critic.

One of the most mental divorce-horror films, reportedly based on the director’s own experience retrieving a daughter from an ex-wife’s cult. Made between Rabid and Scanners, I liked the lead actor (horror regular Art Hindle of Black Christmas and Body Snatchers ’78) better than any pre-Videodrome Cronenberg hero.

It seems Art’s wife Nola (Samantha Eggar of Walk Don’t Run) is under the psychiatric care of “psychoplasmics” weirdo Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, lending necessary gravity to a movie about psychosomatic killer dwarfs), and there are custody/abuse questions about their daughter, which Nola solves by sending her mutant children to kill her own parents, Art’s new girlfriend, and eventually Oliver Reed.

Family meeting:

The outsider conspiracy theorist in this movie who clues in Art about the doctor’s bizarre studies is the same actor (Robert Silverman) who played the wise outsider in Scanners. But it’s Gary McKeehan (of The Italian Machine) who first mentions “the disturbed kids in the warehouse, the ones your wife’s taking care of,” casually as if everybody already knew. Oliver Reed eventually gets on board helping Art with the rescue operation, helping to redeem whatever the hell has been happening at his institute.

In the extras Cronenberg mentions that after making Stereo and Crimes of the Future, before joining Cinepix to make Shivers, he had to decide if he was going to wholeheartedly pursue filmmaking – “I gave up the idea of being a novelist.” Forty-five years later he’d return to that idea for the great Consumed.

Carrie Rickey for Criterion:

The Brood was released the same year as another film about a custody dispute, Kramer vs. Kramer, which subsequently took the Oscar for best picture. In 1979, Cronenberg, himself recovering from a difficult divorce and custody contest, noted of his most personal film, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.” Originally, I thought he was joking.

A grim movie about the two kinds of people in this world: the horrible and the miserable. Our horrible lead is Min-chul, an aggressively foul drunk introduced returning home from prison and unrepentantly stealing his daughter’s college money. Seeking revenge against a businessman who sucker-punches him in a bar, Min-chul discovers that the businessman is building a fake Christian-cult led by patsy rapist Pastor Sung. Getting no help from the cops, Min-chul, who hates nothing more than he hates fakes, sets out to destroy it himself, burning down buildings and getting in bloody fights, finally coming home victorious to his suicided daughter.

For some reason, this story is told through Adult-Swim-looking animation, like Metalocalypse with less blood and worse music. The low framerate gives a marionette, videogame quality, damaging the movie’s illusion.

Why did I watch this? Can’t find reviews by any critics I follow, but somehow it ened up on my must-see list. Yeon has two zombie-virus train movies out this year: an animated feature and its live-action sequel Train to Busan (which opened last week at Cannes, earning Snowpiercer comparisons and a positive review from Twitch).

After Take Shelter, I’ll definitely sign up for another Jeff Nichols/Michael Shannon drama about impending doom. This one is maybe more ambitious, definitely more confusingly plotted, and has less well-defined characters and relationships. Shannon and childhood friend Joel Edgerton have kidnapped Shannon’s magic son Alton from a doomsday cult and with help from Shannon’s (ex-?)wife Kirsten Dunst and federal agent Adam Driver they take Alton to fulfill his destiny by ascending to Tomorrowland.

Pretty sure this was meant to evoke the string of psychic-child adventure stories in the late 1970’s: Firestarter (the novel, if not the film) and The Fury. In fact I was so busy trying to remember how Firestarter ends that I may have missed some details about the doomsday cult and why exactly they wanted Alton – or maybe they weren’t even sure of that themselves. If not an instant classic, at least a cool-looking, mysterious movie, full of great acting and shocking moments (I leapt when satellite parts rained down on the gas station). I always appreciate sci-fi stories that show glimpses of larger worlds and deeper mysteries than the film has the time or inclination to explain.

This counted as the kickoff to Cannes Month, since Nichols’ previous movie Mud played Cannes, and his second film of 2016 Loving is about to premiere there. Although I would’ve watched it anyway.

M. D’Angelo:

For some reason, the emotional core of this film seems to have gone missing — I can see where it’s supposed to reside, but the love Alton’s parents feel for him is oddly abstract, perhaps because E.T. seems more human than he does.

I. Vishvenetsky:

The bad guys trace [our heroes’ car] through an insurance bill left on a kitchen counter, because even Midnight Special’s sense of conspiracy is grounded in the commonplace. The only explicitly poetic line the movie allows itself is spoken by the cult’s neckless goon, played by character actor Bill Camp. Sitting in his truck, he says, “I was an electrician, certified in two states. What do I know of these things?” This is the most the viewer will ever learn about him. Midnight Special defines characters through what they can’t understand, contrasting fear of the unknown with faith in it, and flipping the supernatural into a metaphor for the everyday.

From J. Romney’s review intro:

Cinema has rarely felt so much like a son et lumière as it did in a brief period in the early ’80s, when suddenly shafts of light came shooting out of movie images, as if the screen had been slashed. It became a defining image of Steven Spielberg’s films — Close Encounters, E.T., and Poltergeist too, if you want to count that as one of his … In their purest and most glaring form, those shafts of light had something of the quality of angelic revelation about them. Certainly, you suspected that cinematographers such as Vilmos Zsigmond and Allen Daviau had taken a close look at certain academic religious paintings of the 19th century, or perhaps at Renaissance church sculpture, with their sheaves of marble emulating beams from the divine. At any rate, it came as a shock to get the impression from these films — and with such eye-searing intensity — that cinema was a matter of light streaming directly out of the screen, rather than just bounced off it. The motif was a powerful way of restoring, if not a holy, at least an authentically otherworldly dimension to cinema.

Men In Black 2 (2002, Barry Sonnenfeld)

Hey, I never saw this, always wanted to, but heard it was bad. Just the thing The Last Ten Minutes was invented for. The two mismatched partners are joined by Rosario Dawson with nuclear jewelry and pursued by Evil Lara Flynn Boyle till she’s eaten by a subway monster. Jones tells Dawson she’s the fifth element, Smith is attacked by shockingly subpar effects. Did you know there was a part 3? Neither did I.

[Rec] 3: Genesis (2012, Paco Plaza)

Previously watched [Rec] 1 and remake-sequel (remaquel?) Quarantine 2. Can’t find [Rec] 2 on netflix because their search is ridiculous, so let’s pick up here. Loving couple is trapped in kitchen by encroaching zombies until loudspeaker bible recitation stops them. Dude has a sword, which actually seems like a smart zombie weapon. Girl is bitten by an elderly fellow (bad hearing, immune to loudspeaker), guy cuts off her arm but he’s stupid and slow, and they both die. From one of the directors of the first one, but not shot first-person, so the title doesn’t make sense anymore. The girl was in Ramin Bahrani’s Man Push Cart.

[Rec] 4: Apocalypse (2014, Jaume Balagueró)

Oh, this is from the other director of the first one, and looks a lot worse. Stars Angela from parts 1 & 2. A guy with bad hair helps Angela kill zombie monkeys with a boat motor. Why does the bad guy have a snake-tongue? A boat explodes!

The Interview (2014, Goldberg & Rogen)

Those two guys are trying to escape N. Korea. Cue the loud action scenes. Katy Perry soundtracks the fiery death of President Randall Park (Danny Chung in Veep), then we get an anticlimactic escape from the country. One of the directors wrote for Da Ali G Show.

Horns (2013, Alexandre Aja)

The one where Harry Potter is a demon, from the director of the great Hills Have Eyes Remake. Dang, no horns, Harry must’ve had them cut off already (a la Hellboy?). His brother (Joe Anderson of Across the Universe) is sad, so Harry goes walkies with Max Minghella, and there are guns, and wow, Harry sprouts wings then turns into a full flaming demon and has homicidal maniac Max brutalized by snakes. I think Harry’s dead girlfriend is alive again but I stopped watching because my roomie locked his keys in his car. Is this Wolf Parade over the ending?

The Sacrament (2013, Ti West)

Sorry Ti, but after two-and-a-quarter disappointments you join Aja in Last Ten Minutes purgatory. Joe Swanberg in death cult compound is running from gunmen, everyone is dying, and it’s shot first-person a la [Rec] 1. Isn’t this the same plot as one of the V/H/S/2 segments from the same year, which West and Swanberg were also heavily involved with? Joe semi-rescues AJ Bowen (of every Adam Wingard movie) with the shakiest shaky-cam I’ve ever witnessed. Ends with unnecessary solemn title cards. Boo.

Maniac (2012, Franck Khalfoun)

Fuuuck, this is also shot first-person – and out-of-focus, no less. Co-written by Alexandre Aja. Khalfoun made P2 and acted in Aja’s Haute Tension – they’re as close as the West-Swanberg-Wingard crew. I think Elijah Wood kidnaps Nora Arnezeder then she stabs him with a mannequin arm and runs him over. Then she dies, so he marries a mannequin. Most of these movies are very bad, but this one looks unusually, especially, very very bad.

The Conspiracy (2012, Christopher MacBride)

Grainy first-person pinhole camera with blurred-out faces. Why do all these movies hate cinema? Dude wakes up in the ritual sacrifice room, then is chased through the dark woods while wearing an animal head. Finally a series of talking heads dismiss whatever conspiracy theory the hunted/murdered cameraman presumably uncovered. MacBride has made no other movies and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Automata (2014, Gabe Ibáñez)

It’s balding trenchcoat dudes with shotguns vs. slow, clunky robots. The robots are talking wise, getting themselves shot, when a fully bald Antonio Banderas arrives. His plan of action is poor but he still kills two guys and the third is dispatched by a Short Circuit lizard. Weird/nice to see a robot-future movie where some of the robots (not the lizard) are actual props, not people or digital effects.

I, Frankenstein (2014, Stuart Beattie)

From the trailer this looked like epic nonsense, but it’s actually more coherent than most of the others I just watched. Bill Nighy! The final battle: Frankenstein Eckhart vs. angels, gargoyles, a merman, lots of fire, men in suits, poor digital effects and Bill Nighy! Meanwhile there’s a bunch of computer progress bars and “access denied” messages. Progress bars are always a great source of tension in movies, eh? A massive Matrix-like chamber full of bodies begins to self-destruct. Eckhart (is he the monster or the doctor?) defeats demon-Nighy, saves some lady from a fiery apocalypse and collapsing castle. Beattie wrote the Pirates of the Carribean movies (and Collateral), his cowriter was an actor in Men In Black 2.

It feels, accurately, like an adaptation of a long, wordy book, in that it’s a long, wordy movie that crams in characters and investigations and descriptions and dialogues and backstories through its runtime, leaving little breathing room or sense that it’s all adding up to something. And it feels like one of those sprawling PT Anderson ensemble dramas, in that it’s packed to the gills with great actors, some of them never better than here. And it’s faithful to the madcap trailer, in that it contains those lines and comic scenes. And it’s similar to Big Lebowski, in that they’re both quizzically-plotted red-herring comedies featuring addled detectives. But it’s like none of these things, the visuals closer to Anderson’s The Master than I was prepared for, the mood less comic and hopeful. Some of the critic reactions I looked up mention the dark, disillusioned second half of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a good point of reference. It’s being called the first Pynchon adaptation, but only because nobody (myself included) saw the semi-official Gravity’s Rainbow movies Impolex and Prufstand VII. Random movie references, presumably from the book: a company called Vorhees Kruger, a street called Gummo Marx Way.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s show, but his cop frenemy Josh Brolin keeps trying to kick his ass and steal it. Also great: Jena Malone as an ex-junkie looking for her husband, Katherine Waterston as Doc’s ex-and-future girlfriend with questionable allegiances, and Martin Short as a depraved dentist. Plus: Martin Donovan, Omar, Eric Roberts, Jonah from Veep, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau and Joanna Newsom.

D. Ehrlich:

Anderson has imbued [Joanna Newsom] with a spectral dimension – every conversation she has with Doc sheds light on his isolation, but each of her appearances ends with a cut or camera move that suggests that she was never there, that she isn’t an antidote to his loneliness so much as its most lucid projection.

MZ Seitz, who is “about 90 percent certain [Newsom] is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.”:

Phrases like “peak of his powers” seem contrary to the spirit of the thing. Vice impresses by seeming uninterested in impressing us. Anderson shoots moments as plainly as possible, staging whole scenes in unobtrusive long takes or tight closeups, letting faces, voices and subtle lighting touches do work that fifteen years ago he might’ve tried to accomplish with a virtuoso tracking shot that ended with the camera tilting or whirling or diving into a swimming pool.

G. Kenny:

The movie walks a very particular high wire, soaking in a series of madcap-surreal hijinks in an ambling, agreeable fashion to such an extent that even viewers resistant to demanding “what’s the point” might think “what’s the point.”

D. Edelstein:

It’s actually less coherent than Pynchon, no small feat. It’s not shallow, though. Underneath the surface is a vision of the counterculture fading into the past, at the mercy of the police state and the encroachment of capitalism. But I’m not sure the whole thing jells.

Seitz again:

Something in the way Phoenix regards Brolin … suggest an addled yet fathomless empathy. They get each other. In its way, the relationship between the stoner “detective” who pretends to be a master crime fighter and the meathead cop who sometimes moonlights as an extra on Dragnet is the film’s real great love story, an accidental metaphor for the liberal/conservative, dungarees/suits, blue state/red state divide that’s defined U.S. politics since the Civil War.

A. O’Hehir:

Like Anderson’s other films (and like Pynchon’s other books), Inherent Vice is a quest to find what can’t be found: That moment, somewhere in the past, when the entire American project went off the rails, when the optimism and idealism – of 1783, or 1948, or 1967 – became polluted by darker impulses. As Pynchon’s title suggests, the quest is futile because the American flaw, or the flaw in human nature, was baked in from the beginning.

Long-awaited follow-up to There Will Be Blood has a similar episodic construction – power-hungry man meets someone equally strong-willed but very different, feels he needs to conquer the other man in order to progress. This one doesn’t come together as well, possibly because Philip Seymour Hoffman’s emerging religion is supposed to be similar to Scientology but with hardly any concrete details – the movie dances around its own (and its characters’) intentions.

Joaquin Phoenix is a burn-out ex-navy drifter singularly talented at making harsh alcoholic concoctions from whatever chemicals are around. He and Hoffman are the stars here – the Sunday and Plainview of this movie – and the other actors are almost incidental. Hoffman has a devoted wife (The Muppets star Amy Adams) and a frighteningly lookalike son (Jesse Plemons). Laura Dern has a small role as the family’s host, and later, the only believer to question Hoffman’s shifting rules (drawing rage instead of a reasoned explanation).

The movie is long and sprawling, and has plenty of uniquely wonderful shots. It seems disappointing compared to its predecessor – a movie less explicitly about religion which comes across as more spiritual and insightful.

Slant:

The Master drifts for long expanses, like the wanderer at the heart of the film, running on only the fumes of drama and action… [Phoenix] seems perpetually out of synch with dynamics of the group to which he belongs, and his apparent disinterest in the details of the religion he embraces is probably the best case for the film’s own detachment from the same—a line of reasoning one can accept abstractly without deeming it a virtue.

This succeeded as a horror movie because, even though I accurately predicted the final twist (the “hunchback”), I found the whole thing increasingly unsettling, to the point that the climactic flashlit race through dark tunnels was much freakier than it should have been.

Jay is a family man with a son, a pretty Swedish wife (Myanna Buring of The Descent), and a bit of a temper – possibly something to do with his former job running security in Bagdad? He’s hot and cold with his old buddy Gal (Michael Smiley, a raver in Spaced) and Gal’s new gal Fiona, a “human resources” person (she fires people).

I carefully avoided learning anything about the movie’s plot before watching, had no idea that Jay and Gal make their living as hit men. So I’m adding up facts and impressions from these initial scenes, probably needlessly. Why does Jay cook and eat a rabbit he finds dead in the yard? Is it important that the wife is Swedish, also with a military past? Why does Gal keep bringing up that Fiona is a “demon in bed”? I suppose the demon thing ties into the rest, since she turns out to be part of the weird cult that enlists the men for a murder spree.

Victims, preceded by title cards: first, The Priest, who seems grateful to be executed. Why does Gal make a sign of the cross before the execution, when Jay’s wife had earlier forbidden prayer at the dinner table and the men had raged at some campfire-singalong Christians at the hotel? Next: The Librarian, whom they torture after discovering he’s got a child-porn collection, but still manages to thank them (to Jay: “Does he know who you are? . . . Glad to have met you.”) before death by hammer. Next: The MP, but while they camp outside his house, a wicker cult parades through the woods.

Chase ensues through the catacombs, many culties are shot, and Gal doesn’t make it. Outside, Jay is captured, spun around and made to fight “the hunchback”.

1. Earlier on their mission he saw Fiona outside.
2. Fiona has been paying frequent visits to Jay’s house while the men were away, even though Gal claims he broke up with her.
3. I’ve seen movies before.
So yeah, I figured out “the hunchback.”

God forbid everything should be overexplained in a horror movie (you hear me, Rob Zombie?) but this one goes beyond a sense of mystery, ending abruptly after this final one-sided knife fight. The cult’s goal isn’t just to fuck with some poor guy and make him kill his family – Jay is implied to be some sort of demonic chosen one (the victims “recognized” him). But I hope the next step is to sacrifice the guy, because I don’t know how they expect to convince him that this was all an initiation ritual and now he needs to become their king or whatever. Instead I think they’ll end up with one angry, revenge-seeking professional killer.

A. Nayman

… a dual shift from a vague but comprehensible narrative about a pair of ex-military men-turned-contract-killers on assignment into an insane pagan scenario, and also from a skillfully wrought realist presentation into something wholly hallucinatory. Trying to pinpoint the exact moment of this slippage is next to impossible, because Wheatley has designed the film so that the two modes complement and even heighten one another. There are trace elements of the first half’s nervy naturalism in the crazed climax just as surely as tuned-in viewers will sense something uncanny intruding on those early everyday passages. In lieu of any sort of trendy bifurcation, Wheatley bleeds it all together.

Watched this alongside The Ward, a double-feature of horror movies by formerly-favorite filmmakers which I expected to thoroughly disappoint. But The Ward surprised by being bland but not terrible (I heard it was terrible), and Red State surprised by being fully terrific. Starts out as a grim, bloody horror movie, three kids suckered by an internet ad promising group sex, kidnapped by a Christian cult to be executed for their immorality. Turns into a cops-vs.-crazies hostage-standoff thriller. But really the whole thing is a black comedy, gaining shock value from its willingness to kill major characters at unexpected times. It steals the tone and final scene directly from the Coens’ Burn After Reading, arguably improving it.

Kevin Smith’s best filmmaking has great comic timing but little else to recommend it, and I was worried when this started as an anonymous-looking movie about teens in peril. But then along came Stephen Root as a closeted small-town sheriff up against a house full of well-armed ragingly homophobic religious nuts, and things got immediately better. Happier still, Root calls John Goodman, who leads an FBI assault against the place with sidekick Kevin Pollack (killed almost immediately). Meanwhile inside the compound, one girl (Kerry Bishe) is slightly more enlightened than her mother (Melissa Leo) and their nutjob leader (Tarantino regular Michael Parks), tries to help the survivor of the initial three boys (Ronnie Connell, star of Signals) escape to the safety (heh) of the police. I wasn’t sure if Smith was serious about ending the movie by interrupting the standoff with blasts from heavenly trumpets signaling the coming of the apocalypse – turns out he wasn’t, but it would’ve worked fine for me either way. Distracting bonus appearance by the guy from the Mulholland Dr. diner.