Let’s play a game: would you rather be poked incessantly with sharp objects, or be forced to relive the eighth grade? You might need a minute to think it over. No one wants to be tortured, but eighth grade is a special kind of hell. It only lasts for one year; but what a socially awkward, puberty-riddled, emotionally agonizing year it is. Eighth grade blows, but now you can vicariously cringe your way through the gauntlet that is the last week of middle school for an earnest, 13-year old wallflower in director / writer Bo Burnham’s fantastic debut feature, Eighth Grade. He went back to eight grade, so you don’t have to.
If you’ve seen the two previous feature films by writer/director team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, then you understand that these guys enjoy being meta. Both their 2013 breakout sci-fi flick, Resolution, and 2014’s body horror/romance, Spring include references to a common character (“Shitty Carl”) who is never seen onscreen, and the duo even appear together in one scene in Resolution. Impressively, their new film, The Endless, takes meta to a delightfully mind-bending level. Not only do audiences finally get to meet Shitty Carl, but the two main characters (and one minor character) from Resolution appear in a few pivotal scenes of The Endless, reprising their roles from the previous film. Stephen King does this type of cross-referential thing in his novels all the time as a way to expand and validate his fictional worlds, and here the device works well to let The Endless serve as both a possible sequel to Resolution, while also letting it stand alone as a solid, separate story that contains a few winks and nods for hardcore fans. You don’t need to see one to ‘get’ the other, and to infer that this reveal is a ‘spoiler’ would be like saying that seeing Rogue One spoils the plot of Star Wars.
The Endless stars Benson and Moorhead as brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, roommates who own and operate a small housecleaning business, but struggle to pay the bills. Although they appear to be about the same age, it is inferred that Justin is the elder sibling by, say, ten years. One afternoon, Aaron receives a battered package in the mail, containing a video tape on a format that is long obsolete. After hitting up a couple of yard sales, he finds a device that will play the tape, which shows footage of a young woman who speaks to the camera about an unspecified, upcoming event. Aaron recognizes her as Anna (Callie Hernanadez), whom he knows from a cult-like commune that took-in the brothers after their parents died in a car accident. It’s unclear how long they lived at the commune, but suggested that ten years have passed since they left – or was it ‘escaped’?
Aaron shares the tape with Justin, insisting that the two make a return visit to the commune so that he can gain some type of closure, and also make sure that Anna and the other friends they left behind are all okay. Justin has zero desire to go back, but indulges his younger brother on the condition that the trip be limited to just one day. Right.
Though it’s not immediately obvious that the group worships or follows the teachings of any particular figurehead, guru or phenomena, things get weird right away. First off, Justin quickly observes that residents of the commune appear to not have aged a day in the ten years since the brothers left. Aaron sees flocks of birds flying in odd, circular patterns, and surprise photographs and other recorded media containing images of the two just kind of ‘show up’ randomly. And, oh yeah, isn’t that a second moon up in the sky? What’s that about? And who, or what, is on the other end of the rope in that midnight Tug-of-War ritual?
The Endless is one of those films that’s comprised of multi-layered mysteries and plot twists that you won’t see coming no matter how much you think you know what is going on. The subtle horror, slowly-mounting suspense and ever increasing sense of dread will have you on the edge your seat, and it’s really best to go into the theater knowing as little about what happens as possible. While it could be described as Cabin in The Woods meets Primer, The Endless will also appeal to those intrigued by the exploration of cults and cult-mentality, as addressed in the Netlfix documentary series, Wild Wild Country. It is certainly a film that invites multiple viewings, and it will leave you with lots to discuss with fellow viewers long after leaving the theater.
The Worley Gig Gives The Endless 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars!
The Endless Hits Theaters on Friday April 6th, 2018. Find a Showing Near You at This Link!
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Direct and Star in The Endless.
“America, they want someone to love; but they want someone to hate, too.” These words, concisely distilling the public’s obsession with celebrity scandal, are spoken by Tonya Harding, former Olympic figure skater and one-time champion competitor, in director Craig Gillespie’s outstanding new biopic, I, Tonya. For those who are late to the game; back in 1994, Harding found herself at the center of one of the most sensational scandals in sports history after being linked to a physical attack on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In the seemingly endless media circus that surrounded ‘the incident’ (as it is referred to in the film) and its far-reaching consequences, Tonya Harding became a walking punch line and arguably the most-hated woman in America. In the aftermath, she was sentenced by the court to probation, community service, ordered to pay a large fine, and forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association, effectively ending her career. Twenty three years later, I, Tonya gives Harding a compelling confessional with which to tell the whole sordid story, and it is a tale based on true events that’s as crazy as any absurdist, darkly comic fiction you could make up.
With a tight script based on dialogue from recent interviews by the director with both Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, plus archived interviews, You Tube videos and meticulous research, I, Tonya traces Harding’s life and career from age 4 to 44. Growing up in a broken home (her mother’s fifth child from her fourth marriage) Harding’s focused passion for skating took her out of her reality of incessant beratement by her stage-mother-from-hell, LaVona Golden (an astounding performance by Allison Janney) and transformed her into a disciplined athlete who didn’t take any shit from anybody. Performing in homemade costumes because she couldn’t afford to buy them, and constantly standing up for her right to compete and be judged on her ability despite not fitting the mold of a squeaky clean all-American girl, it’s exhilarating to watch her come up in the sport (Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition) while gaining a voyeuristic perspective on the circumstances that shaped her complicated character.
As Harding hones her craft and becomes an increasingly successful, award-winning competitor, her already volatile relationship with Gilooly becomes even more physically abusive, and the film’s depiction of domestic violence is very realistic, harrowing and difficult to watch. By the time Gilooly and his half-witted friend Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser) begin brainstorming a plan that will ‘intimidate’ Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan, who is perceived as Harding’s stiffest competition for Olympic Gold, it is already too late to stop the downward spiral.
Despite the violence and serious subject matter, I Tonya is a wildly enjoyable ride, filled with many hilarious moments thanks to the absurdist situations and excellent comic timing from the top-shelf group of actors cast in this strange-but-true story. A well-curated film soundtrack can always advance the action and evoke keen emotions in ways that dialogue alone cannot, so it’s worth noting that, along with a terrific original score by Peter Nashel, I, Tonya makes brilliant use of popular radio hits of the era such as Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman,” Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” sound tracking the film’s closing credits as they scroll over archival footage of Tonya Harding skating in competition, which is unexpectedly quite moving.
Expect I, Tonya to garner a considerable number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Robbie and Best Supporting Actress for Janney (at the very least), and Best Director.
Opening Nationally on Friday December 8th, 2017, The Worley Gig Gives I, Tonya Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:
If you’re a fan of Dan Stevens from his tenure on the period drama series, Downton Abbey, not to mention (but you can see I am about to) his current roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the hit TV series Legion, you can get another fix of the wildly popular British actor in a new independent film, The Ticket. As the first American film directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late), The Ticket offers an intimate, engaging and well-acted take on a familiar cautionary tale. James (Stevens) has been blind since childhood due to an inoperable pituitary tumor pressing on his optic nerve. Despite his blindness, he appears to enjoy a good life; being happily married to Sam (Malin Ackerman) and father to a 13 year-old son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James also works at a Real Estate firm making cold sales calls with a group of other blind employees that includes his close friend, Bob (Oliver Platt). There’s no reason to think that James‘ life isn’t as fulfilling and productive as a sighted person, until his circumstances change drastically.
James‘ eyesight suddenly returns shortly after the film’s opening credits sequence, which plays out over a playful morning conversation with Sam as they lay in bed. Set against a dark screen that is occasionally punctuated by a brief mix of faded shadows and light, this montage is highly effective in putting the viewer inside James‘ world as a blind man. But by the time that James makes his way into the bathroom for his morning shower, he sees his adult reflection in the mirror for the first time. At this point, the plot of The Ticket might be described as Awakenings meets 99 Homes, as James becomes almost frantically driven to make up for opportunities lost due to his blindness, and get what he feels he deserves as a sighted man.
With his vision restored, James is no longer content to work the phones in the office, and makes a pitch to the firm’s executives to launch an ambitious but ethically dubious marketing campaign which Bob immediately sees as a scam. He also becomes increasing preoccupied with his appearance; preening over his hair and investing in tailored suits to fit in better with the professional group of his co-workers that he aspires to join. As he butts heads with Sam over his desire to branch out into new activities — she prefers to stay in their comfortable routine (going dancing at a social center frequented by blind people, which is where the two first met) — he also develops a wandering eye.
If you enjoyed Netflix’s cannibal-themed comedy series, The Santa Clarita Diet, but just wish it featured more of the erotic sexual violence seen in the 2001 thriller Trouble Every Day, while also dishing up a plot that is more deeply-steeped in body horror, dark family secrets, and general fucked-up-edness, a new French horror film, Raw, may satisfy that craving. Raw, the debut feature film from director Julia Ducournau, tells the unconventional coming-of-age story of Justine, a pretty but sheltered teen who is starting her freshman year at veterinary college. Justine’s older sister, Alexia, also attends the school, and it is soon revealed that both of the girls’ parents are alumni as well.
Raised in a family of strict vegetarians, Justine has never even tasted meat. When she is unable to back out of a school hazing ritual involving the consumption of a raw rabbit kidney, the act triggers an immediate and alarming metamorphosis within the young student that is both physical and temperamental in nature.
Attempting to juggle her class schedule while simultaneously enduring the incessant bullying of her upperclassmen peers, Justine finds herself suffering from an acute sickness that the school’s doctor brushes off as food poisoning. In short order, she abandons her vegetarian diet in search of flesh, and also undergoes a sexual awakening when she finds herself irresistibly attracted to her hunky gay roommate Adrien. When the two finally do get it on, the frenzied encounter plays out as one of the most harrowing sex scenes ever committed to celluloid!
Foreign films always seem to have an edge over American cinema when it comes to creating an effective atmosphere of creeping dread, in which the viewer becomes uncertain whether what is shown on screen is actually happening, or is just a manifestation of a character’s imagination — and Raw succeeds wildly in providing just enough subterfuge to keep you guessing until the very last scene as to what exactly is driving Justine’s insatiable new hunger.
There are many grisly, Cronenberg-esque scenes in Raw, but nothing the average horror film aficionado can’t stomach. The film also boasts terrific acting performances by the three leads; Garance Marillier as Justine, Ella Rumpf as Alexia, and Rabah Naït Oufella as Adrien. I look forward to watching other films featuring these actors. Recommended if you dig films like Carrie, The Hunger and We Are What We Are, The Worley Gig Gives Raw 4 out of 5 Stars!
With a run time of 98 minutes, in French with English Subtitles, Raw opens nationwide on March 10th, 2017. In NYC, the film opens at the Angelika Film Center, featuring Q&As on Thursday 3/9 following the 8pm show & Friday 3/10 following the 7:10pm show with Director Julia Ducournau and actress Garance Marillier. Details are at This Link.
Watch the Trailer Below:
The Coming-of-Age Story can fall into one of two categories: Sublime when done well, but Worse than Anything when done poorly. 20th Century Women, a new film directed by Mike Mills (Beginners) flips this genre sideways by looking at a pivotal year in the life of a fifteen year old boy through his relationships with three strong and finely nuanced women. Set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), a dedicated single mom in her mid-50s, who is raising her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) during a time filled with cultural change and rebellion. Without a father figure in Jamie’s life, Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women to help her bring-up Jamie to be a good man. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) is a free-spirited, 20-something punk artist and cancer survivor who is a boarder in their home, while 17-year-old Julie (Elle Fanning) is a troubled, promiscuous neighbor, who is also Jamie’s best friend. Billy Crudup also stars as William, a charming but aimless Handyman who also rents a room with the Fields home.
For anyone who lived through an important time of his or her life during 1979 (it was the year I graduated from high school, lost my virginity, and started college) 20th Century Women will feels like a unique, cliché-free set of life experiences that creates a pitch-perfect time capsule, dictated by a very specific time in pop culture history. Here are my Top Ten reasons why I love this film so much.
1. Even when she is horrible-piece-of-shit films like Greenburg, Greta Gerwig is the best thing in any movie she makes. I love everything about her character, Abbie, who reminded me of my former Punk Rock self, only way cooler.
2. The cinematography and art direction make each frame of the film look like a William Eggleston photograph.
3. Its depiction of the California Punk Rock scene in 1979 (which I was deeply immersed in) also manages to includes songs from the NYC’s No Wave scene and of course British First Wave Punk. The soundtrack reflects the film’s time period with music from artists who helped define the era: Devo, Suicide, The Germs, The Raincoats, Siouxsie and the Banshees, David Bowie, Buzzcocks and Black Flag. Holy Cow! I felt like someone stole my vinyl collection from this era and put it in the film.
4. The soundtrack also features and original score by Roger Neill, which is utterly transportive.
5. I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of the Talking Heads’ music, but three of their songs – “Don’t Worry about the Government,” “Artists Only” and “The Big Country” — are far superior to any their popular hits, and arguably better than most other songs on the planet. Two of these three songs are included on the soundtrack. You will have to see the movie to find out which ones. BTW I predict that this film will provoke a surge in downloads of the Talking Heads’ catalog.
6. There’s a 3D acid flashback visual effect that the filmmakers use to elucidate the feeling of traveling in a fast car as being comparable to moving across time. I’ve never seen anything like that before and it is so trippy and profoundly emotionally effective.
7. 20th Century Women reminded me so much of three of my favorite films, ever: Dazed and Confused, Almost Famous, and American Beauty. If you dig those films, then you will just love this one.
8. An old high school friend of mine makes a cameo appearance in the film, sort of by accident. Tony Reflex from the seminal Orange County punk band, Adolescents, can be seen in a photograph used in a montage that depicts the rise of the punk rock movement in the late 1970s. That was fun.
9. No meaningless violence or senseless tragedy. I hope that isn’t a spoiler for anyone.
10. It is just the best movie, and you should go see it!
20th Century Women — which was just nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for this year’s Golden Globes, opens in New York and Los Angeles on Christmas Day, and Nationwide on January 20th, 2017. Music From The Motion Picture: 20th Century Women will be released digitally on December 16th, while a CD version will be released on January 13th 2017, followed by an LP version on February 10th, 2017.
If you’ve been around long enough, you might remember a genre of extremely clever novelty records — super popular during the ’70s — that parodied current events and news stories with fake interviews made up of audio clips taken from charting pop songs. Those early mash-up records were lots of fun, and if you miss them, and wonder why somebody hasn’t picked up on that idea for a long-form project, then a new animated film called The Stolen Lyric is going to really turn you on.
Directed by Chase Peter Garrettson, The Stolen Lyric is an animated retelling of the Robin Hood fable, set in the rock music world, and taking on corporate greed as its chief nemesis. While the film’s plot and episodic structure closely follow Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, in The Stolen Lyric, Robin H is the lead singer of a rock band called The Merry, whose members include Tucker (Friar Tuck), LJ (Little John) and Will Scarlet (Will Scarlet). What makes The Stolen Lyric absolutely groundbreaking is how the film’s dialogue is based exclusively on 555 song fragments from 129 different iconic recording artists. Imagine listening to a mind-blowing, deep-catalog mix CD that was created by a pop music audiophile with a ten second attention span, and that might give you an idea of the sweet nostalgic ride that is The Stolen Lyric.
Here are just a few of the artists whose songs you’ll hear in The Stolen Lyric:
The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Who, Television, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Simon and Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, Queen, The Doors, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Radiohead, Outkast, Beastie Boys, Beach Boys, Elton John, Janet Jackson, Peter Frampton, Jefferson Airplane, Alice in Chains, Joy Division, Fiona Apple, Nine Inch Nails, Buzzcocks and MGMT.
I must admit that I was very surprised to recognize a few song clips from the hyper-litigious Metallica, so perhaps the filmmakers are biding their time until the lawsuits start to flow in from that camp.
Because the film immediately immerses you in a familiar auditory environment, the action can be a bit fuzzy at first, so here’s an outline of major plot points:
Originally, The Merry included a fifth member, Sherriff (The Sheriff of Nottingham) who, pre-fortune and fame, become disillusioned with a lack of commercial success, and quit the band to take a music business office job. Years later, the guys discover that Sheriff (who is now a wealthy corporate exective) has stolen a lyric from one of The Merry’s songs — “Time to Trade in Your Bike in for the Ride of Your Life” — and sold it for use in a car commercial. In their quest to get their owed-royalties from Sheriff, the story of The Merry unfolds in a series of flashbacks, and we see that Sheriff is also now with Rob’s former girlfriend who, for some reason isn’t named Marion, but Lorraine, as referenced in the lyrics to Lou Reed’s “Wild Child.”
Here’s a bit of interesting trivia on the film: The characters in The Stolen Lyric were designed to look like hybrids of the traditional characters and modern-day rock personalities, with Rob’s look inspired by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, LJ’s look inspired by Joshua Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Will Scarlet’s look inspired by David Bowie, Tucker’s look inspired by Jonathan Davis of Korn, and Sheriff’s look inspired by Nick Valensi of The Strokes.
I think that the most fun you can have with The Stolen Lyric is to watch it with group of your best record-collecting-music-nerd friends (adding lots of alcohol into the mix) and see who gets stumped the most when trying to identify the more obscure songs and artists. You could even make a drinking game out of it! Very fun! Although there are scattered swear words throughout (which most kids already know if they have ever ridden the subway in NYC, or own records by even one rap artist), and one fairly tame sex scene, I would say the film is age-appropriate viewing for mature 13 year-olds and up. It would absolutely be a terrific way to introduce kids to a top-shelf and somewhat eclectic collection of classic tunes that they are never going to hear anywhere else.
I watched The Stolen Lyric twice and enjoyed even more the second time.
The Stolen Lyric can be viewed via Amazon Prime.