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Thursday
Nov232017

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Three-quarters of the way through My Friend Dahmer, I made the mistake of pressing "Pause" and looking up crime scene photos of the titular serial killer's apartment/meat locker. The images are horrific but darkly compelling, like Francis Bacon paintings realized as sculpture wrought from impossibly contorted human bodies. In adapting John "Derf" Backderf's graphic novel about his awkward high-school relationship with Jeffrey Dahmer, co-writer/director Marc Meyers doesn't employ such imagery--choosing instead to push actor Ross Lynch to the very limits of a tortured character study. The crumbling family life, repressed homosexuality, and razor-thin tightrope walk between peer approval and revulsion make Dahmer such a sympathetic character that it becomes easy to forget how the rage boiling up behind his sheepish eyes and dorky glasses ultimately manifested. A lifetime of being ignored taught Dahmer the art of hiding in plain sight, which gave him the freedom to pursue other arts, too.

Thursday
Nov162017

Justice League (2017)

From the opening scene, I knew I was in trouble. By now you've heard about Henry "Superman" Cavill's Mission: Impossible 6 mustache, which he was contractually forbidden to shave during the simultaneous Justice League shoot. Paramount won a pissing match with Warner Bros, apparently, and the resulting spray of face-replacement CGI piss douses every inch of this thoroughly mediocre superhero team-up movie. Between Ben Affleck's bored Batman, Gal Gadot's "Blue Steel"-posing Wonder Woman, and the latest Lord of the Rings-cast-off/ world-ending villain, there's literally nothing to recommend here--beyond, perhaps, a fleetingly thoughtful character introduction (Ray Fisher's "Cyborg") and a thrilling chase on the Amazonian isle of Themyscira (both of which are memories after minute twenty-five). The remaining hour-forty is mildly better than the rest of Zack Snyder's hopelessly tone-deaf and misguided superhero franchise. But not even millions of dollars in concealer can turn this bad look into a glamour shot.

Tuesday
Nov142017

Superman III (1983)

David and Leslie Newman were really onto something with Superman III. Spring-boarding from Part II’s existential crises (“Who is Superman without his powers?”), the screenwriting duo pushed further into the duality of Clark Kent and Superman by turning the Man of Steel into a drunken, menacing jerk—thanks to a synthetic hunk of Kryptonite laced with tar. The junkyard battle, which externalizes Supes’ internal struggle, is one of the most distressing scenes I can remember seeing in a family film. Unfortunately, this next-level look at the Blue Boy Scout gets subsumed by a hundred-and-ten minutes of Richard Pryor’s shocked-face vamping; a super-computer sub-plot that goes nowhere; and a semi-coherent romance storyline between Clark and high-school sweetheart Lana Lang (the radiant-but-squishy Annette O’Toole). The early Superman films always vacillated between sincerity, slapstick, and the horrors of omnipotence. This third outing best illustrates the schizoid hazards of treating comic books as kids’ stuff.

Saturday
Nov112017

78/52 (2017)

 

As part of his talking-head interview for Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary 78/52, author Bret Easton Ellis declares that the notorious shower scene in Psycho is the one element that makes Alfred Hitchcock's horror masterpiece certifiably brilliant. Ellis is mistaken, of course, but his notion fits Philippe's movie to a "T". There are forty-five minutes of context and insight here, surrounded by garishly flushable fluff. Before we even get to the interview subjects (all presented, incidentally, in film-school-chic black-and-white), Philippe sets the table with a confusing re-creation of Marion Crane's long and frantic drive to the Bates Motel, which plays as if Universal Pictures had refused to let him use any actual footage from Psycho (we eventually see some, thank God). The doc's centerpiece--a thorough breakdown of score, editing, performance, and Saul Bass' meticulous yet immediate-feeling storyboards--is worth the hassle, as long as you resist the impulse to check out early.

Thursday
Nov092017

Tragedy Girls (2017)

I imagine the pitch for Tragedy Girls being something like, "It's Scream from the killers' perspective!" After twenty-one years and countless imitators, director Tyler MacIntyre and co-writer Chris Lee Hill (working from a screenplay by Justin Olson) stick the landing in a warts-and-all successor to Wes Craven's genre-bending, meta-horror smash. Squeaky-clean high schoolers/social media obsessives Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) build a following with their coverage of the grisly murders plaguing their sleepy little town. Turns out they're the ones doing the killing, and Tragedy Girls presents the audience with a unique challenge: how much clever dialogue; inventive, splatterific deaths; and twisty storytelling can distract us from the fact that these girls are irredeemable psychopaths? MacIntyre and company ratchet up the cruelty from first scene to last, evolving Craven's legacy of movies that are less meant to be enjoyed than feared. And, of course, blogged about.