À Meia Noite Levarei Sua Alma ***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B starring José Mojica Marins, Magda Mei, Nivaldo Lima, Valeria Vasquez written and directed by José Mojica Marins
Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring José Mojica Marins, Roque Rodrigues, Nadia Freitas, William Morgan written and directed by José Mojica Marins
by Alice Stoehr Zé do Caixão, known to English-speaking audiences as Coffin Joe, is like Mr. Hyde without a Dr. Jekyll. Although nominally a small-town undertaker, he has the mien and rap sheet of a supervillain. Attired in top hat and cape, he stalks the countryside, bent on perpetuating his bloodline. He luxuriates in his own depravity. He's a horror-movie monster, and he loves it. Joe is the brainchild of Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins, who's been playing the role for decades. He introduced the character back in the 1960s with a pair of colourfully-titled films: At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and, three years later, This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse. Both of those phrases are threats spoken onscreen by Joe's victims; both hint at ghostly mischief and a lurid tone. Unhindered by understatement, these films dispense atrocities at the rate of about one per reel. Joe's first evil act, mere minutes into Soul, is blasphemy: he spends Good Friday noshing on a leg of lamb--an unthinkable sin to his pious Catholic neighbours--then, like a schoolyard bully, forces an unwilling bystander to take a bite. Further iniquities pile up quickly in the form of bullwhipping, blinding, and immolation. When an elder dares to challenge him, Joe lacerates the man's face with a Christ figurine's crown of thorns.
****/**** starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eisinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie written and directed by Olivier Assayas
by Walter Chaw There's a brilliant song by Patty Griffin called "Every Little Bit" that, among other piquant turns of phrase, includes the lyric "I still don't blame you for leaving, baby, it's called living with ghosts." At around the 30-minute mark of Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper, our survivor Maureen (Kristen Stewart) tells a confidante she had made a vow with her late twin brother to make contact from beyond the grave should one pre-decease the other. "And then?" he asks. "I guess I'll live my life and let it go." Then a long, gliding shot of Maureen riding her moped through the Parisian nighttime scored to simple, haunted strings that are augmented towards the end of the sequence by percussion, which reveals itself to be a pencil against parchment. Maureen works as a personal shopper for a German fashionista who never seems to be home. In her off moments, she helps her brother's "widowed" girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) try to suss out if his ghost is unquiet and lurking in the house they shared. Maureen's a medium, you see, or at least she and her brother played at being mediums--a morbid pastime informed by a heart ailment, unpredictably mortal, shared by the siblings. A doctor warns her against any strenuous activities or emotions. She'll suffer both before the end.
**/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B starring Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Simon McBurney screenplay by Steven Knight directed by Robert Zemeckis
by Bill Chambers
"Back in those days I was much more of a taskmaster. I would make my actors hit those marks and always be in their light, and now I've kind of--I don't care as much anymore. I wouldn't allow there to be a camera bobble in any of those films. If the camera jiggled one frame, I'd have to do the take again. But nowadays, audiences are so different. I don't think they appreciate the attention to detail. Maybe subconsciously they feel it, maybe they don't. Having a perfectly composed shot doesn't matter if you are watching it on an iPhone, does it? You wouldn't see it."
That's Robert Zemeckis, speaking to We Don't Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy author Caseen Gaines. When I first read those words, I have to admit I had a little moment of "Dylan goes electric" heartbreak, because the precision craftsmanship of Zemeckis's films had always been a comfort. Then I reread them, taking into account the resounding shrug that greeted both his lengthy detour into motion-capture animation and his subsequent return to live-action (Flight), and his sour grapes became considerably more pungent. Many filmmakers relax their standards as they get older; few make a point of announcing it. Fewer still do so with spite. If the prolific Zemeckis is fatigued, he shouldn't pass the buck: it's hard-won--I can't begin to imagine the intensity of effort it took to pull off, say, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or Death Becomes Her. When he belittles the iPhone he gives away his age (62 at the time), but he also sells himself out, as someone who's been at the forefront of the digital revolution for decades. Of course, between his waffling commitment to 3-D and MoCap and his punking of a nation's kids in a 1989 TV special in which he claimed that Back to the Future Part II's hoverboards were a real technology suppressed by parents' groups, it's hard to take Zemeckis at his word.
*/**** starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky and Bill Condon, based on the screenplay by Linda Woolverton directed by Bill Condon
by Walter Chaw Three cheers for Disney's dedication to diversity. I saw a production of "A Christmas Carol" last year with a fully-integrated cast. It made no sense, but hooray for diversity at any cost, even at the expense of sense--even at the risk of self-parody. Even when it doesn't move the ball, necessarily. I'm not talking about making Gaston's fawning sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) overtly gay instead of merely coding him as such, I'm talking about making every other person a person of colour for the express purpose of being on the right side of some imaginary, constantly-moving but unforgiving line in history. Sometimes, it's a good thing; sometimes it feels desperate; and sometimes, it's just premature. When it's good, it looks like Disney's Rogue One, where the diversity spoke to oppressed cultures revolting against a fascist, white-nationalist regime. When it's not good, it looks clueless. We're not a post-racial society; presenting us as such, burdened as it is by the damning weight of good intentions, comes with the danger of excreting another Cloud Atlas fantasy--the type of movie the white people in Get Out would make: tone-deaf and offensive at worst. Or, as with this live-action Beauty and the Beast, just sort of silly and twee.
*½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B starring Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Daphne Zuniga written by Charles Pratt, Jr. directed by Larry Stewart
by Bryant Frazer Turning up at the tail-end of the late-1970s/early-1980s slasher boom, The Initiation is another one made with little ambition by people with no special inclination towards horror, but at least it doesn't look down on the genre: Despite the sorority-house trappings, it aspires to a perfectly middlebrow level of quality, like a network movie-of-the-week or mass-market paperback original. That's some kind of achievement for a film that opens with a delightfully ridiculous dream sequence (or is it?) depicting an episode of coitus interruptus involving a little girl with a knife and an intruder who catches on fire, and ends with a half-dozen college kids being tracked down by a serial killer with knives and a harpoon gun. Trouble is, The Initiation works a little too hard to lay a foundation for its killing spree in a drama of dark family secrets. The result is a messy amalgam that doesn't work especially well as a soap opera or a teen sex comedy, let alone as a slasher movie.
*/**** starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
by Walter Chaw The thing about porn flicks is that few visit them for their plot and characterizations. Enter Kong: Skull Island, monster porn in which a group of people visit the titular monster on the titular island and witness monster-on-monster violence in a series of very expensive-seeming and escalating tableaux. This is, in and of itself, neither indictment nor recommendation, just observation that porn is good for two things: jerking-off and sociological ruminations. Some would say those are one and the same; I would say that if you want to know what a society is concerned about, you could do worse than vet popular porn categories. I would also offer that the topic of miscegenation, which the vast majority of folks pretend not to think about very much, appears to be of primary importance when it comes to pornography. Many porn actresses, in fact, delay their first "interracial" (code for white women with black men, generally) scene until after they've sold their amateur and anal statuses. It's the last taboo before there are no new lands to conquer. And, for the most part, porn plays into that trepidation as a product of the standard social stereotype of black men having larger dicks and a greater level of commensurate sexual savagery than their meeker Caucasian counterparts. Let's not even talk about the cashew-hung Asian. Ditto, there doesn't seem to be much of a mainstream market for black porn actresses (over-sexed), though Asian women do attract a premium for the mystique afforded them in South Pacific brothels during WWII. No study of primatology is complete without a careful survey of their sexual proclivities, after all.
**½/**** Image A+ Sound A Extras B screenplay by Jared Bush directed by Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams)
by Walter Chaw Arguably, the only place it really matters in terms of the diversity tango in Disney's new animated musical Moana is in the songwriting and voice-acting, and so although there are only white people directing (four credited directors) and writing (eight credited scenarists), find Opetaia Foa'i and Lin-Manuel Miranda behind the music and Dwayne Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho behind the Pacific Islander characters. This is progress. Also progress is what seems, to this non-Polynesian, like a real effort to not appropriate a culture so much as represent its mythology, tied as it must be to a narrative about a young woman, Moana (Cravalho), a stout Disney heroine of that certain mold for whom adventure calls, declaring her independence from the patriarchy. We've seen her before, is what I'm saying, but she's neither sexualized nor given an aspirational mate/therapeutic marriage. Progress. I'll take it. There's even a moment where demigod Maui (Johnson) makes a crack about Moana being in the Disney canon. Progress? Self-awareness, at least. I'll take that, too. What's unfortunate is that for everything that's very good about the film, there's something very familiar. The argument should probably be made that familiarity is the sugar that helps the medicine of its progressive elements go down. It worked for The Force Awakens.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS ***/**** starring Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, Sennia Nanua screenplay by Mike Carey, based on his novel directed by Colm McCarthy
LOGAN ****/**** starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green directed by James Mangold
by Walter Chaw Movements start this way, with one or two events that could be thought of as coincidence in response to some greater trend in our culture, perhaps--or, more likely, in response to some greater corruption. I've long referred to movies, especially genre movies, as indicator species in our cultural swamp. They're the first to show evidence of introduced toxins; at minimum, they're the first major art form to disseminate warnings widely. Jordan Peele's sleeper hit Get Out is just the latest in a recent spate of pictures that have caught the zeitgeist. Test the theory: would it have been as popular in another time? Movies are not unlike Percy Shelley's "dead thoughts... Like wither'd leaves" carried on divine winds to quicken new births. It's a florid reference to justify an unpopular concept. Not religious in any way, I find sublimity in the idea that human hands work in concert sometimes, and the close study of their products can provide insight into the world as it is, not simply as it was. Find in James Mangold's Logan and Colm McCarthy's more or less contemporaneous The Girl with All the Gifts (hereafter Girl) complementary, near identical concepts executed in largely the same way--proof for me of a body politic reacting in concert to poison. As grim as they are (with Logan actually verging on vile and mean-spirited), they are nonetheless to me evidence of at least some collective immune response. Artifacts of resistance left for the anthropologists. Despite their apparent nihilism, they are proof, as referenced explicitly in Girl, of hope.
*/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras C+ starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Matthew Broderick, Lily Collins screenplay by Warren Beatty directed by Warren Beatty
by Walter Chaw The title refers to Howard Hughes, I think, and becomes a song its ingénue sings a couple of times over the course of the film. Moreover, it refers to Warren Beatty at this point in an extraordinary career that began in the New American Cinema and that wave of Method actors filling in the spaces left behind by the Golden Age. He was impossibly beautiful, and played against it whenever he could. He was whip-smart. Unabashedly political. Unapologetically a legendary philanderer who made perhaps his greatest single impression on my generation with a surprise cameo in then-girlfriend Madonna's documentary monument to herself, Truth or Dare. Any investigation, though, finds that Beatty is a definitive voice of a definitive moment in the cinematic history of the United States. It's been fifteen years since his last film as an actor, twenty as a director. In the meantime: rumours and speculation about this long-gestating production--his dream project, the culmination of a storied career behind and in front of the camera. And now here it is, Rules Don't Apply, and it's exceedingly uncomfortable, a film that leaves Beatty, acting here as co-star, director, producer, and credited screenwriter, exceptionally vulnerable. As capstones go, it's an interesting one.
El Ángel Exterminador ****/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B starring Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, José Baviera, Augusto Benedico screenplay by Luis Buñuel, based on the story "Los Náufragos de la Calle de la Providencia" by Luis Alcoriza and Luis Buñuel directed by Luis Buñuel
by Bryant Frazer The first scene of The Exterminating Angel takes place at the gate outside a stately mansion where the house's butler, Julio (Claudio Brook), confronts Lucas (Ángel Merino), a servant trying to sneak off the grounds just as the staff is preparing a dinner party for twenty. The worker hesitates for a moment, then continues on his way, the butler calling angrily after him: "Never set foot in this house again." It's the beginning of a very long night for the steward, who is vexed as his waiters and kitchen staff, one by one or in pairs, desert their posts for the evening at the worst possible time. The servants know something's wrong, and though they're not sure what it is, none of them--save the unflappable Julio, who keeps the gears turning smoothly--are willing to stick around to find out. When Lucia (Lucy Gallardo), the frustrated lady of the house, barks her offense at this betrayal, Julio is there to reassure her. "Domestic help grows more impertinent by the day, madam," he declares.
***/**** starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford written and directed by Jordan Peele
by Walter Chaw It's the easiest thing in the world to make a movie about bigots; it's a lot harder to make a movie about liberals who mean well, but are feckless elites who not only don't make things better, they actually, through their platitudes and paternalistic attitudes, make things worse. It's about money. If anything has been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's that everything's about money. The villains of Jordan Peele's directorial debut Get Out aren't white people--they're rich white people. (Its closest analogue is Brian Yuzna's Society.) A movie about white privilege, it's a comedian's film in that, like the best comedians, it recognizes some awkward truisms and makes them manifest in a situation that builds on itself. This is a great set. It gets on a roll. Its central riff is a complicated one: rich white liberals are so detached and alien that through their best intentions, they're actively responsible for the continued oppression of minorities in the United States. There was a string of films in 2016 that raised this as a possibility (I Am Not Your Negro and OJ: Made in America high among them), but in Get Out the idea has found its natural home in the horror genre. The bookend to Romero's Night of the Living Dead, it even shares the same set-up for a radical "down" ending. The decision Get Out makes at that terminal crossroads says everything. It's a challenge to the audience to check their own attitudes about how black men are demonized in our culture: abusers of white women, sexually threatening to white men, and murderers of both; angry and bestial.
*½/**** starring Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau screenplay by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy directed by Zhang Yimou
by Walter Chaw Gloriously, fantastically stupid from beginning to end, Fifth Generation legend Zhang Yimou's The Great Wall is also, you know, not terrible on the grand scale of terrible things. The popular narrative around this picture is the casting of Matt Damon as some sort of "white savior" in a film about China's most notable architectural achievement--except that it's not really about the Wall and Damon doesn't really save anything, though he does put to rest any sort of debate about whether or not he's a credible action star...or even star star. He tries on an Irish accent here that consists mainly of his trying to talk around a marble. That is, when he remembers he's supposed to be doing an accent. It's Kevin Costner-as-Robin Hood levels of comically-horrific, and, just like Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, The Great Wall is an attempt to grit-up and culturally contextualize some ridiculous rural folktale. The folktale in this instance is Zhang's own classic Red Sorghum, which earned him some trouble upon release because of its depiction of the old men running the Chinese government as senile, corrupt, and perverse. Indeed, The Great Wall depicts Chinese leadership as tradition-bound in a bad way, its "emperor" figure a child hiding behind his throne. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to see the monstrous child in Red Sorghum grown into this pathetic figure of a leader. If the film weren't so stupid, in other words, it would probably have gotten Zhang in trouble again.
****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B- starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan
by Walter Chaw Kenneth Lonergan is a brilliant writer who specializes in small interpersonal moments. His plays are extraordinary. The two previous films he directed, You Can Count on Me and Margaret, are masterful portraits of human failure and weakness. He is a poet of imperfection and imperfect resolution. Margaret gained attention for the lengths to which Lonergan fought for a cut that exceeded a contracted-upon two-and-a-half-hour running time. Martin Scorsese, with whom Lonergan collaborated on the script for Gangs of New York, helped facilitate a 165-minute cut that to my knowledge has never been screened. When Margaret finally hit home video after a swell of support from online advocates, the long version had inflated to 186 minutes. I've only seen the theatrical and extended cuts of the film. I love them both. I rarely wish movies were longer; Lonergan's are the exception. That has something to do with his writing, of course, and something to do with his casts, who, to a one, have contributed extraordinary work--perhaps the best work of their careers. Crucially, Lonergan trusts them to deliver his words. He doesn't garnish them with gaudy camera angles, or underscore them with expository soundtrack cues. Mark Ruffalo once said of Lonergan, affectionately, that the playwright was only playing at being humble. For me, however Lonergan is with other people, his humility comes through in the extent to which he allows his actors to do their job.
***/**** starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth screenplay by Justin Haythe directed by Gore Verbinski
by Walter Chaw Gore Verbinski's A Cure for Wellness is lurid unto beautiful, exquisite pulp, just barmy enough to attract a cult and just smart enough to deserve it. The central conceit is that humans are only really good as biological filters for pollutants; in place of the batteries of The Matrix, the film sees people as distilleries for some sort of immortality potion. The process kills them. I learned when I was young that rabies is a kind of fear of water: its sufferers die of thirst even surrounded by water. The old, rich, white/white-collar victims of A Cure for Wellness entomb themselves in an alpine sanatorium invested in hydrotherapy in hopes of feeling, you know, better. Their sickness is of the soul, alas. The irony of the water cure offered by their ostensible saviours is that the patients become desiccated, mortally. There seems to be a message in there about how the illness of soulless acquisition is self-inflicted, and the amount expended in solution only exacerbates it. Money is bad. The making of it is incestuous, perverse, and insatiable. It's a strange thing to say in a movie that cost a lot of money, but the point is well taken. Especially now.
*½/**** starring Megan Maczko, Edward Akrout, Matt Barber, Sadie Frost screenplay by Mark Rogers directed by Ate de Jong
by Alice Stoehr "You cannot fight," explains the villain to his rope-bound prisoner. "Your only chance of survival comes from compliance." This lecture is the starting point for Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. [sic], an erotic cat-and-mouse thriller that takes place over a long weekend in a suburban English home. Said villain is Aaron, an intruder played by handsome French actor Edward Akrout. He has a sparse moustache and a head of unkempt hair, locks of which fall dashingly across his forehead. The camera adores him. Megan Maczko, playing Aaron's prisoner Alison, receives far less flattering treatment. She spends much of her screentime tied up and in some degree of undress, her face contorted with faint disgust, eyes averting her captor's gaze. Like Akrout, she has to look hot, but hers must be a hotness coloured by mixed emotions and performed under duress. As her co-star murmurs the lion's share of the dialogue, Maczko needs to indicate reluctant arousal blossoming into full-on emotional liberation. She fails, but so would any actress, because the film's greasy sexual politics set her up to fail. Meanwhile, the third member of the cast--Matt Barber, as Alison's husband Tom--has to squirm in a bathtub and howl as Aaron mutilates Tom. He acquits himself adequately, especially given paltry lines like, "Did you touch my wife?" and, "I can't have anyone else inside you."
***½/**** starring Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Ian McShane written by Derek Kolstad directed by Chad Stahelski
by Walter Chaw There's something of Highlander in John Wick: Chapter 2, this idea that there are people-looking things walking among us, wrestling for control of something, jockeying for arcane positions in mysterious hierarchies. It's disturbing in the best way; dislocating, world-building. It's what makes stuff like The Matrix work, the suggestion that there's a reality underlying ours--and in a scene among pigeons on top of a New York tenement, the film features a Matrix reunion where Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) greets Neo (Keanu Reeves) with a "been a long time" nod. John Wick: Chapter 2 is meta in a way that fits exactly right into the feeling of a picture that spends most of its time building on the alternate universe introduced in the original. It's aligned right there with M. Night Shyamalan's Split and the possibility that there are comic-book worlds outside of DC and Marvel and they're, what's the word? They're amazing.
*½/**** screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Jared Stern & John Whittington directed by Chris McKay
by Walter Chaw Ugly, loud, twenty minutes too long, and half as clever as it thinks it is, Cartoon Network stalwart Chris McKay's The Lego Batman Movie is saved from becoming something other than Shrek: Longform Commercial by a single scene that demonstrates a genuine emotional knowledge of the Batman character: Batman (a returning Will Arnett), after a long day of antic motion, stays up by himself in his immense, empty home, gazing at a picture of his dead parents and wishing they could have seen how he turned out. It happens early, though, and the rest of the picture's content to make fun of DC lore ("It's worth a Google!" says Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), having listed a few of the stupider villains in Batman's rogue's gallery) while attempting occasional earnestness here and there along the long road to the standard kid-fare message of "family is where you find it." The Lego Batman Movie is both fan-pleasing and self-loathing, placing it in the company of the wave of faux-nostalgia garbage millennials wear now like that tenth-generation McGinty claiming Irish heritage on St. Patrick's Day. A low bar for inauthenticity, and by the third or fourth joke about how corny the old TV show is, you remember the old TV show had more meta intelligence in any ten minutes of a given episode than the whole of this exhausting exercise.
****/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A starring Eiji Okada, Kyōko Kishida, Kōji Mitsui, Hiroko Itō screenplay by Kōbō Abe, based on his novel The Woman in the Dunes directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
by Walter Chaw The first morning amateur entomologist Niki (Eiji Okada) wakes in a house at the bottom of a hole carved into a sand dune, he finds his lessor--the titular, nameless Woman (Kyoko Kishida)--asleep in the nude, with sand crusted over her body like a thin, granular mantle. Director Hiroshi Teshigahara sweeps over her body with a sculptor's attention. It's intensely erotic, though for all its voyeuristic intention, it's not prurient. No, there's a sense of intimacy in this: it's the attention you give a lover when her skin is near your eye and you love her and desire her: you want to touch her, to taste her, to consume her. There's much talk of "the flesh" in David Cronenberg's The Fly; flesh makes you crazy. The way Teshigahara shoots surfaces in Woman in the Dunes makes you crazy. When they finally make love, Niki and the Woman, each individual grain of sand on Niki's skin stands out like a monument. When the Woman bathes him, rubbing suds between her hands and running them down his legs and back, you can feel her hands play across your own calves, and you can feel him beneath your hands. Not just flesh, but the textures and tides of the dunes over which Niki practices his minor distractions from the day-to-day of whatever it is he does in the city, where he's nothing, accomplishes nothing of note, and will not be missed but for the missing-person's report we see at the end as the film's pithy epilogue. Based on Kōbō Abe's novel of the same name, Woman in the Dunes is in one way the best, most insightful and evocative adaptation of T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" there ever was, from Eliot's winsome protagonist looking to escape regret into experience to, literally, these lines about entomology as a metaphor for being seen clearly and judged wanting:
****/**** Image B- Sound D Extras B starring Jeremy Irons, Genevieve Bujold, Heidi Von Palleske, Stephen Lack written by David Cronenberg and Norman Snider, based on the book Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland directed by David Cronenberg
by Bryant FrazerDead Ringers begins and ends extraordinarily, with the soft swelling of Howard Shore's title music. It starts with the slow emergence of strings, which are eventually layered with harp and woodwinds, mining uncommon veins of sadness in a major key. Set against on-screen illustrations of an anatomical and explicitly gynecological nature, the music serves the obvious function of undercutting the film's pointedly unsettling subject matter with unalloyed lyricism. It's like a statement of purpose. But Shore's melody goes farther than that, somehow. It's remarkably haunting, for one thing--the theme is one of the most potent sensory triggers I know, instantly evoking both beauty and despair. Just the first four bars are enough to set me weeping. And it's penetrating. More than elegiac, it's specifically regretful, and bittersweet. According to Royal S. Brown's liner notes on the first CD release of the movie's score, the director knew it right away. "That's suicide music," Cronenberg told Shore when he first heard the theme. "You've got it."
****/**** Image A Sound A Extras A+ starring Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, Tom Towles written by Richard Fire & John McNaughton directed by John McNaughton
by Walter Chaw John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (hereafter Henry) is one of the great black comedies. At its heart is the basis of Judd Apatow's gross-out flicks: body horror, deviant sexuality, deep ignorance-unto-actual stupidity, questionable decisions and their consequences, and brilliant bits of deadpan humour dependent upon timing and situation. Similarly, it derives its effectiveness from a keen observation of male heterosexual relationships and the peril implicit therein. The sole distinction, really, is that Apatow and his followers believe in conservative, family-values resolutions whereas Henry ends in essential, sucking nihilism. It's a distinction that draws the line between something that's considered to be a comedy and something that's widely discussed as possibly the most unpleasant American film ever made. What most have identified as pessimistic, however, I would just call vérité, now more than ever. At least for me, Henry had about it an almost palpable air of taboo. Though shot in 1986, it was released in Denver in 1990, when I was 17. I read Roger Ebert's cautionary, celebratory review of it, which made me afraid. When I saw it, I saw it alone. For its wisdom, it's never quite left me.