Larry Clark got his start by taking photos of fellow juvenile delinquents, which made up his fantastic book Tulsa. After years as an acclaimed art photographer, he directed the agonizing, but highly regarded film Kids, about the same topic, set in ‘90s New York City. Later he made Bully, which is based on a real life murder perpetrated by, you guessed it, juvenile delinquents. This is Clark’s best film by far. It pushes almost EVERY button, so sensitive folks should flat out avoid it. Bully is so shocking that I am honestly impressed that it has been made available on streaming services in our current “trigger warning” times. In spite of its controversial content, this film managed to receive a lot of critical acclaim at the time of its release. Unfortunately Larry Clark did not continue making films of the same quality. He’s following his obsessions with smaller movies, which I admire, but Bully shows all elements falling into place to make a near-perfect film.
RIP Brad Renfro. I wish we could have seen what movies you’d go on to make.
Nearly ten years ago my partner Suzie dragged me to see Alexander McQueen’s exhibition at The Met in New York. I was not psyched to wait in line for something I wasn’t particularly interested in. Once we got into the show, my feelings quickly changed. I loved what I was seeing, especially the dark influences like Jack the Ripper and Joel-Peter Witkin. I walked out of museum an official Alexander McQueen fan. Suzie and I watched this documentary as soon as it cane out and absolutely loved it. This is obviously a must-see for fashion enthusiasts, and I would recommend this film to anyone interested in art as well. Before I saw that exhibition I didn’t understand the two worlds had such compelling areas of crossover.
The Painted Bird is one of the nastiest art films I’ve seen in recent years, and I admire that. Based on the acclaimed book, a boy is trying to survive on his own during WW2. He runs into every kind of weirdo and sadist you can imagine along the way. The plot reminds me of Sade’s Justine, and the cinematography owes much to Andrei Tarkovsky (particularly one of my favorites, Ivan’s Childhood). If you can’t handle simulated violence against animals, definitely skip this movie. The poor creatures are dispatched right from the beginning, and the mayhem continues throughout. The kid gets abused nearly as bad. You’ll see several famous actors in small roles. I found that (and the use of a Wilhelm Scream) a little distracting, but I imagine it helped get this crazy movie made. You can read an interview with the director here. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
I’m picky about horror comedies, but this is a good one. Nicholas Cage does his thing as dad without slipping into Wicker Man level ridiculousness, and Selma Blair is the perfect choice as mom. The pace is pretty relentless, and the end ramps up the crazy even further. The filmmakers have done an admirable job at keeping the movie effective, and not as silly as it could have easily become in lesser hands.
The Troubles are the setting of this very original action / drama. The balance of those genres is well handled, and everything is beautifully filmed. The film’s tension is enhanced by a powerful, bass-heavy, John Carpenter-meets-Godspeed soundtrack. This is pretty dark stuff, but well worth your time.
I was a TERRIBLE skater for three years in the ’80s before I gave it up. I still love to watch skateboarding videos old and new. This is a very deep documentary that just so happens to feature skater kids. Three friends navigate troubled families and becoming adults. It’s very well done and engaging throughout. Highly recommended viewing.
This is a beautifully photographed borderline-art film about teenage rebel fighters with an American hostage. It has several violent scenes, but is mostly a deliberately paced dark drama. The jungle locations are stunning, and seem so remote they’re from another planet. All the actors are excellent, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Julianne Nicholson (Law and Order / Boardwalk Empire) knock it out of the park as the hostage. This film also features a killer electronic soundtrack by Mica Levi who also did the music for Under the Skin. Monos is an almost perfect film that I strongly recommend to any patient film buff.
I am not a snob about remakes. I just approach them with a ton of caution (I refused to see Suspiria based on reviews). Sometimes remakes are amazing, like The Thing or The Hills Have Eyes. This one is a damn good “reimagining” of the original 1974 film. I love that movie, but this Pelham is enough of it’s own story to complement the original. When director Tony Scott (RIP) was good, he was better than most big-budget directors, and this is among his better films. Give this a shot when you’re in the mood for a fast-paced action thriller.
Here we have a good overview of the career of influential Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. I thought this doc might be too fluffy as much of her work is bright and polka dot-strewn, but it does not shy away from the artists’ battle with mental illness and other dark corners of her life. Infinity also touches on the many lesser-known ways in which Kusama’s output has made an impact on the history of art. Recommended viewing for those interested in the creative struggle.
I saw an early screening of Alexandre Aja’s High Tension at the Philadelphia film fest and really enjoyed it. I hoped that he’d become the next great horror director. That didn’t really happen. However Aja has managed to make several entertaining genre films over the years. Crawl is not as intense as his 2006 reboot of The Hills Have Eyes, but I liked it. It’s a solid, well-constructed, horror thriller with some genuinely chilling moments. Expect no more and you won’t be disappointed.