InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 7

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In the summer<br />

of 2001, Lionsgate distributed<br />

two brutal films about young adults<br />

carrying out murderous conspiracy plots<br />

against their friends. The first, Larry Clark’s<br />

Bully, premiered at the performance-focused<br />

Method Fest in mid-June before its U.S.<br />

theatrical distribution the following month;<br />

and late August saw the release of Tim Blake<br />

Nelson’s O (Othello), which followed a recent<br />

cycle of Shakespeare adaptations reimagined<br />

for contemporary young adult milieus<br />

(Romeo + Juliet [1996], 10 Things I Hate About<br />

You [1999], Get Over It! [2001], etc.) Although<br />

Larry Clark’s singularly vicious vision differs<br />

significantly from Nelson’s more conventional<br />

directorial style, these back-to-back releases<br />

exhibit fascinating thematic and tonal<br />

convergences, most specifically in terms of<br />

their shared moral complexity.<br />


The films’ mutual resonances gesture to a burgeoning sense of<br />

pessimism in America at the turn of the century, the cumulative<br />

consequence of environmental disaster, reactionary politics,<br />

racial tensions, and national and military violence. Consider, for<br />

example, Richard Baumhammer’s racially-motivated mass<br />

murder in 2000; the ecologically catastrophic Martin County coal<br />

slurry spill the same year; and the election of far-right George W.<br />

Bush as U.S. president in January 2001. Bully and O were also<br />

released two years after the Columbine High School massacre of<br />

1999, which spurred several major studios to delay, cancel, or<br />

significantly rework any films depicting young adult violence. O<br />

was itself originally scheduled for release in 1999 but was<br />

ultimately delayed after Columbine High’s Eric Harris and Dylan<br />

Klebold murdered twelve of their classmates and one of their<br />


films share this central conceit of murder plots enacted by young<br />

adults, though the target in Bully is staged as a substantially less<br />

“innocent” character than Odin. As in O, though, the murder target<br />

grapples with his own conflicted masculinity, and with his<br />

father’s domineering and subtly sinister presence.<br />

Both Larry Clark’s Bully and Tim Blake Nelson’s O mine their grim<br />

stories for nuanced and complex dealings with group morality.<br />

The films’ central acts of violence are dislocated from single<br />

guilty parties, arising instead from stews of personal, familial,<br />

and social factors. O’s Hugo acts as the film’s devious narrative<br />

architect: he manipulates others to join his plot to exterminate<br />

Odin, whom he perceives as the ultimate threat to his<br />

masculinity. Bully finds its own Shakespearean plotter in the<br />

scheming orchestrator of death, Lisa (Rachel Miner), a<br />

contemporary approximation of Lady Macbeth <strong>—</strong> it is no<br />

coincidence that, after her friend group viciously butchers Bobby<br />

in a remote glade, she frantically insists that she can still smell<br />

the young man’s blood, even despite her accomplices’ assurances<br />

to the contrary.<br />

Clark and Nelson’s films parse their engagements with guilt by<br />

drawing subtly on their sociopolitical milieus <strong>—</strong> interestingly, Gus<br />

Van Sant’s 2003 minimalist high school shooting drama Elephant<br />

explores related ideas to similar effect. Bully and O are awash in<br />

contemporary cultural signifiers, soundtracked by ‘90s and ‘00s<br />

hip-hop, prickly with the recent Columbine massacre’s<br />

implications of rage-filled, adolescent male disenfranchisement.<br />

O’s wealthy, white, handsome Hugo is suffocated by the<br />

imposition of his father and school’s rigid class and gender<br />

expectations (bound up in subtle and not-so-subtle forms of<br />

racism); and Bully’s largely uneducated, hopeless youths drift<br />

hazily through an environment typified by drug dependency,<br />

existential purposelessness, and casual misogyny.<br />

Indeed, these films are brutally confrontational in their portrayals<br />

of socialized sexism: in a red haze of jealousy, O’s Odin rapes his<br />

girlfriend Desi (Julia Stiles); Bully’s Bobby exorcises his repressed<br />

queerness by sexually humiliating and trafficking several friends,<br />

including his best buddy Marty, and by raping his on-and-off<br />

lover Ali (Bijou Phillips) while forcing her to view gay<br />

“These films’ visual particularities supplement their overarching visions of<br />

doomed American adolescence. To watch Bully and O is to experience the<br />

bleakest of turn-of-the-century, young adult American cinema.<br />

In both films, Manichean moral systems falter. Neither Hugo nor<br />

Lisa represents a one-note cipher of evil. Instead, Bully and O<br />

grant their dark Shakespearean puppeteers with human pathos<br />

<strong>—</strong> Clark’s film emphasizes the intensification of Rachel’s<br />

insecurity and low self-esteem under her boyfriend Marty’s (Brad<br />

Renfro) abusive and dismissive behavior, and O locates Hugo’s<br />

quiet pain in the presence of his belittling, emasculating father<br />

and coach, Duke (Martin Sheen). Bully and O further emphasize<br />

their respective diffusions of guilt through the structures of<br />

ensemble drama <strong>—</strong> Bully’s drug-hazed group collectively (and<br />

haphazardly) plans and executes the murder of Bobby, while O’s<br />

Hugo depends heavily on sycophantic classmate Roger (Elden<br />

Henson) to set the stage for his nefarious scheme.<br />

pornography. In O, Desi minimizes her own experience as a<br />

victim; in Bully, Lisa laughs aside her friend Ali’s trauma. Lisa’s<br />

moral murkiness connects to her more generalized state of<br />

tragic denial, flippantly proposing the murder of Bobby Kent and<br />

daydreaming about the possibility of sharing a child with Marty,<br />

even despite his abusive response to her pregnancy. O’s own<br />

complicated “villain,” Hugo, devotes his entire sense of self-worth<br />

to the masculine spectacle of high school basketball games,<br />

injecting HGH, and forming malicious schemes off-court to fill his<br />

psychopathic void of self-comprehension.<br />

Certainly, these films share a fundamental interest in the moral<br />

quagmire endemic to their contemporary America. Larry Clark<br />


affords his sweaty, lusty, Florida-set film with the kind of textual immersion and brutal verisimilitude that permeates his entire<br />

preceding oeuvre (from his stunningly brazen debut photography collection, Tulsa [1971], to his harrowing, Cassavetes-esque film<br />

debut, Kids [1995], to his texturally vivid crime-drama Another Day in Paradise [1998]). Bully is a film centered on images, befitting an<br />

auteur whose cinematic expression is steeped in his experience as a photographer: Clak exhibits a pruriently eager obsession with<br />

his cast’s bodies and sexualities, and he places pictorial emphasis on their milieus <strong>—</strong> Bully is sticky-hot with the texture of beaches,<br />

middle-class domiciles, video game arcades, and humid Florida streets. Though O does not reach Bully’s level of bold aesthetic<br />

sophistication, it does deliberately relegate most of its drama to the basketball courts and residences of its high-class prep school,<br />

stressing Odin’s visible racial marginalization within the almost ubiquitously wealthy whiteness of its student population.<br />

These films’ visual particularities supplement their overarching visions of doomed American adolescence. To watch Bully and O is to<br />

experience the bleakest of turn-of-the-century, young adult American cinema. The pictures are exemplary in their brutal honesty,<br />

ethical opacity, and pessimism. And while their dramas are distinctly intimate, Bully and O transcend the notion of a narrow scope,<br />

gesturing to far larger cultural anxieties and crises. <strong>—</strong> MIKE THORN<br />


AN ODE TO<br />


An Interview<br />

With Albert Serra<br />

Despite boasting a<br />

filmography mostly known for its<br />

unorthodox approximations to period detail<br />

and the formal subversions that come with<br />

it, the defining characteristic of Albert<br />

Serra’s fiction oeuvre might be its subtler<br />

Thematic undercurrents around the anxiety<br />

of insignificance. Since the bumbling buffoons<br />

of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza struggling to cope<br />

with the death of chivalry in Honour of the Knights (2006),<br />

Serra’s feature-length works have traversed different<br />

approximations to the innate tension of seeing all of one’s<br />

values and convictions crumble in real time, finding a<br />

particular fascination in the sordid details<br />

that arise within these decaying<br />

environments.<br />


Pacifiction sees Serra return to many of these recurring<br />

concerns, but from a refreshed perspective, one less interested<br />

in conceptual extravagance and provocation than in playing with<br />

the medium’s possibilities and taking them to their utmost limits.<br />

In this conversation, the Catalan filmmaker talks through his<br />

stylistic evolution, the challenge of fabricating icons for a<br />

contemporary setting, and the possibilities that come with sonic<br />

exploration.<br />

Since the release of Liberté in 2019, you’ve talked about<br />

growing tired of historic depictions, and wanting to establish<br />

some kind of dialogue with the contemporary world. Did any<br />

creative challenges arise while making this contextual<br />

switch in Pacifiction?<br />

For me, the change wasn’t just about wanting to explore<br />

something for my own artistic reasons, more so than it’s also an<br />

inherent part of the world. In my historic works, I now feel there’s<br />

a sense of artificiality; these worlds feel a bit staged to me. Just<br />

by working with performers, the fact that you’re doing an historic<br />

fiction gives them some sense of grounding in certain<br />

iconographies. You don’t really have to create anything. With the<br />

contemporary, you have to create something with no timely<br />

referents; you’re constructing in real time, basically.<br />

“Americans tend to like the<br />

optimism behind new worlds<br />

and their discovery, while we<br />

Europeans seem fixated on<br />

what’s disappearing around us.<br />

Also, a film as conceptual as Liberté really doesn’t work in a<br />

contemporary context <strong>—</strong> it needs the safety net and background<br />

of historicity to avoid being pure abstraction. So I really wanted<br />

to engage with a more narrative approach, to really go into a<br />

sense of adventure that allows for other kinds of observations. I<br />

took a lot from Stendhal, actually. It wasn’t a thing about having a<br />

thesis on colonialism, nuclear war, or corruption. I feel that<br />

without a political agenda, the film could exist more freely. That’s<br />

why it essentially combines a more objective mise-en-scène,<br />

with a very subjective point of view. It helps make everything<br />

more diffuse and enhance the feel of disorientation.<br />

In your previous works, you did play a lot with the value of<br />

icons, essentially subverting their canonical depictions <strong>—</strong><br />

Casanova and Dracula in Història de la meva mort, Don<br />

Quixote in Honor de Cavallería, The Three Wise Kings in El<br />

cant dels ocells. How was the process of creating De Roller to<br />

be your contemporary icon?<br />

A lot came from working with the actors. Benoît Magimel already<br />

boasts a pretty iconic face, with lots of ambiguity and a sense of<br />

ruggedness to it. Then ideas came during the shooting. Things as<br />

essential as De Roller’s tacky sunglasses were pretty much<br />

Magimel’s initiative, and they perfectly embody what I wanted for<br />

the character. You really can’t read his reactions or what he’s<br />

thinking about. I also told Benoît to wear the white suit at all<br />

times, so it became like a second skin to him.<br />

In a way, since I don’t really read the script with my actors or<br />

anything, De Roller came to be an almost hyperrealistic<br />

performance from Magimel, building the character in real time<br />

while he was on screen. Every decision seemed to double-down<br />

on his grotesque aura, like, for example, showing his tattoo. As<br />

soon as you see that, you ask yourself what kind of people you’re<br />

actually dealing with.<br />

In the film, De Roller does feel like the anchor that holds<br />

together a collapsing vessel, which is the world around him.<br />

Despite not having the inherent meaning projected into your<br />

previous narrative works due to their historic setting,<br />

Pacifiction also feels like those last moments before<br />

inevitable change. What’s your relationship with this<br />

apocalyptic idea around “the end of times”?<br />

I love it, since the end of a period always means the death of<br />

something, and the rise of another. It’s inherently<br />

cinematographic, as there’s a natural tension palpable in the<br />

environment. You’re right, all my films can be described as some<br />

sort of portrait of an agonizing and decaying world that’s about<br />

to end. The out-of-place Libertines, Louis XIV’s death: For them, a<br />

world was ending, and then a new one immediately began.<br />


Jean Douchet, a famous French critic, once said my films aren’t<br />

about the drama of actions, but the drama of presence. When I<br />

played with these iconic figures you mentioned earlier, the mere<br />

fact they’re depicted on screen creates some sort of tension,<br />

and a natural narrative immediately arises. Those twilight<br />

moments in history are also very textured and rich, and I enjoy<br />

creating these baroque depictions where you can see them<br />

decomposing in every corner. In Pacifiction, the colonial setting<br />

helps amplify these tensions. It erases the nuances of a place<br />

like Europe, where we have bourgeois middle classes and all<br />

kinds of distinctions, while there, you can’t escape the duality<br />

of colonizers and the indigenous population.<br />

Americans tend to like the optimism behind new worlds and their<br />

discovery, while we Europeans seem fixated on what’s<br />

disappearing around us, and have a weird fascination with what<br />

came before us. We’re perpetually living the end of something, I<br />

feel.<br />

You’ve also mentioned previously the influence of ‘70s<br />

American filmmaking, which stands perhaps in a middle<br />

ground from these two sides you mention; having a sordid<br />

feel for beauty underneath their bleak and doom-laden<br />

surfaces. Do you feel that’s also the case with Pacifiction?<br />

Yes, it’s a weirdly hopeful film for me. It has important flashes of<br />

hope, with the abstracted romance between Shona and De Roller,<br />

for example. If the film didn’t have that, perhaps it’d be too<br />

asphyxiating and conceptual, and I had already done Liberté for<br />

that.<br />

Humor is also an important aspect of this. I like how it<br />

disorientates the viewer and puts the images on screen into<br />

question. The viewers have to ask themselves what kind of film<br />

they’re actually watching, with all the ugly sides of a colonial<br />

setting, and also the moments of absurdity that come from this<br />

world’s contradictions and constant chaos. It’s a very unstable<br />

film, which is something I feel sets it apart.<br />


Your way of exalting these aspects of Tahiti seems very deliberate as well, particularly its sonic atmospheres, where<br />

naturalistic and artificial textures work together to create an aura of constant paranoia. How was the process of conceiving<br />

Pacifiction’s aural universe?<br />

From the get-go, we wanted to avoid playing with an overly folkloric soundtrack. That, to me, is very boring and cliché. We did use<br />

some Tahitian and Hawaiian recordings from the 1950s, but put them on their head by mixing them with other sounds. That’s the weird<br />

music you listen to in the nightclub, for example. We wanted to keep destroying those sounds, and that’s where the music evolves into<br />

the dissonant soundscapes that basically drown out everything else and become very oppressive.<br />

I got inspiration from Ennio Morricone’s work on some forgotten horror soundtracks from his day in Italy, and how Jean-Luc Godard<br />

used to approach sound as a layer detached from his films’ visuals. For me, it's an obsession. I want sound to have a relationship with<br />

images, but also be able to give you additional information, and even contradict what images tell you.<br />

Does that also relate to an idea you’ve touched upon earlier in your career about the “aristocracy of images” being fully<br />

independent entities almost?<br />

It’s all about images having their own sovereignty. Images need to be autonomous and self-sufficient. They don’t bow down to anyone.<br />

Sovereign images are very irritating, because they don’t respect you as a viewer. They impose themselves and then mock you.<br />

Sovereign images go beyond social or political leanings, and are much purer, almost amoral. For me, cinema is about these unjust<br />

images, the ones you almost have to make an active effort to endure. <strong>—</strong> INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY ALONSO AGUILAR<br />



LOCAL<br />

HERO<br />

Bill Forsyth<br />

Bill Forsyth may have to bear the reductive, buzzy distinction of<br />

having “put Scottish cinema on the map,” but he at least did so<br />

with both a disarming degree of separation <strong>—</strong> shifting the<br />

sensation of discovery onto his characters <strong>—</strong> and an expectedly<br />

warm familiarity. Originally an aspiring writer, Forsyth prioritizes<br />

novelistic detail over momentum, which allows him to poke fun at<br />

his country while also reveling in its low-key uniqueness, juggling<br />

breaks in perspective like they were the most graceful of chapter<br />

or paragraph breaks.<br />

Local Hero (1983), only Forsyth’s third feature film, is a<br />

crystallized, just barely diaphanous collection of his gestural<br />

strengths, the narrative hitting pockets of great poignancy and<br />

astuteness, its ambling gait unlocking the significance of all the<br />

circumstantial happenstance (that’s daubed upon the narrative)<br />

as respective grace notes. With a subtle environmentalism<br />

undergirding the film, Forsyth renders human relationships<br />

inextricable from the natural world: A Texas oil man, MacIntyre<br />

(Peter Riegert), is sent off to the fictional coastal town of<br />

Ferness, Scotland, by his batty, star-gazing boss, Felix Happer<br />

(Burt Lancaster), to convince the local populace to allow their<br />

land to be purchased and repurposed as a refinery. MacIntyre<br />

expects to meet resistance, but the townspeople actually<br />

welcome the chance of being bought out, the first of many<br />

Forsyth subversions. With figures as high as they are, Forsyth<br />

doesn’t pretend that there wouldn’t be at least some enticement,<br />

thus embarking on a journey of discovery rather than a standard<br />

us-vs.-them standoff.<br />



The beauty of the landscape <strong>—</strong> wonderfully captured and<br />

preserved by cinematographer Chris Menges <strong>—</strong> throws Mac, as<br />

well as his Scottish associate, Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), into<br />

something of a comfy tizzy, tendrils of relaxation working their<br />

way over the two, as Mac goes wading through tide pools as his<br />

beard grows out, and Danny romantically communes with a<br />

selkie-scientist, Marina (Jenny Seagrove). The jokes are loosely<br />

strung together, relying on a repetition that’s atomized across<br />

scenes, rather than actual delivery, and this method of<br />

snowballing humor makes Forsyth a modest heir to Preston<br />

Sturges (which is even more visible in his follow-up, 1984’s<br />

Comfort and Joy), with the comedy leveling the playing field for all<br />

the players; there are some ripostes and whatnot, but this isn’t<br />

exactly a movie where characters score off one another.<br />

Lancaster, for his part, handles the broader comedic strokes,<br />

while Riegert trades straight-man duties with Dennis Lawson,<br />

who, as Gordon Urquhart, is Ferness’ financial advisor, hotel<br />

proprietor, bartender, soothsayer, and more. The dynamic<br />

between these two men <strong>—</strong> a friendship borne from what was<br />

anticipated to be a more fractious professional exchange <strong>—</strong><br />

speaks to Local Hero’s simple, yet fleeting, pleasures, an almost<br />

random union between two men that exudes a self-effacing,<br />

puzzle-piece perfection. In fact, the majority of the relationships<br />

in Local Hero, in their finiteness, foresee modern globalization;<br />

Mac was dispatched with money on the mind, but the isolation <strong>—</strong><br />

communication with the States achievable only by faulty<br />

payphone <strong>—</strong> effectively ensconced him. It’s not a fantasy about<br />

being unreachable, because reachability wasn’t as all-pervasive<br />

then as it is now, but rather proof of the tangible possibility of<br />

inner change, free from influence of all kinds. <strong>—</strong> PATRICK<br />




GIVE UP<br />


In an era when any slob with a next-day delivery synth can create bleep-bloops in<br />

their bedroom and go viral overnight, the musical and technological landscape of<br />

the new millennium might as well be a different planet. But back in 2001, it was the<br />

pre-streaming, pre-YouTube era, and indie scenes mattered a great deal, either<br />

clustered geographically (Athens, GA; Omaha, NE; Toronto, Canada) or around<br />

certain marquee labels (Merge, Matador, Saddle Creek). We were fresh off the<br />

explosion of the NYC dance-punk/garage rock revival but ahead of the full-blown<br />

movement posthumously dubbed “indie sleaze.” A certain subset of overwrought<br />

teenagers <strong>—</strong> whom this writer definitely wouldn’t know anything about <strong>—</strong> cried to<br />

Bright Eyes and raged to Desaparecidos; their primetime viewing was equal parts<br />

The O.C. and the Iraq War. Oh, and iPods. Rest in power, click wheel.<br />

Given all of this antiquated technology, it’s fitting that one of the biggest bands of<br />

the era made their music through the humblest means available: good<br />

old-fashioned snail mail. Seattle-based Ben Gibbard, the prototypical soft boi<br />

frontman of soon-to-be-indie megastars Death Cab for Cutie, and prolific electro<br />

experimentalist Jimmy Tamborello (AKA Dntel), who lived in LA, were scene mates<br />

and kindred spirits. Their one previous collaboration was the song “(This Is) The<br />

Dream of Evan and Chan'' from the latter’s well-received album Life Is Full of<br />

Possibilities. It’s long and fuzzy, simultaneously upbeat and muted, and Gibbard’s<br />

exceedingly gentle voice cuts through Tamborello’s glitchy production like velvet<br />

through velcro. This would become the critically and commercially irresistible<br />



template for Give Up, the duo’s 2003 full-length album under the<br />

Postal Service moniker (named for the beleaguered agency that<br />

ferried their words and instrumentals to each other along the<br />

West Coast, and at one point even sold the album on their<br />

website). Widely beloved and certified platinum, the album’s ten<br />

songs propelled a generation of college radio DJs, music<br />

directors, ad execs, and lovesick indie kids to such great heights,<br />

the likes of which have arguably never been reached since.<br />

“[Give Up’s] emotional maturity<br />

never veers into self-pity, and<br />

complements instead of<br />

clashes with the rest of the<br />

album’s moony-eyed impulses.<br />

There’s no shortage of self-conscious sincerity in indie rock, and<br />

the early 2000s were a hotbed of singer-songwriters wearing<br />

their thesauruses on their sleeves. But something about Ben<br />

Gibbard <strong>—</strong> his crunchy-granola Pacific Northwest bonafides? His<br />

observational songwriting (no gimmicks here, *cough* Sufjan<br />

*cough*)? His downright angelic voice? <strong>—</strong> had the rare and<br />

alluring ability to make listeners feel like actual friends, not<br />

therapists or romantic rivals or one-sided confidantes. His lyrics<br />

aren’t necessarily confessional; he’s too adept at toggling<br />

between perspectives, often with the help of backup singers Jen<br />

Wood and Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. But Give Up’s best songs are<br />

shot through with loneliness and self-awareness that’s both<br />

relatable and earned. That’s why opener “The District Sleeps<br />

Alone Tonight” is such a sucker punch; a line like “I am finally<br />

seeing / Why I was the one worth leaving” elegantly signals<br />

heartbreak and growth in equal measure: adulthood in a nutshell.<br />

the best showcase of the album’s prevailing emotion, which is<br />

raw, heartfelt earnestness. In terms of sheer lovestruck bravado,<br />

the album’s contemporary torchbearer might just be the Queen of<br />

Poptimism herself, Carly Rae Jepsen; both she and Gibbard have<br />

a gift for delivering even the cheesiest line with an absolute<br />

straight face until you, too, are left believing that there truly is<br />

“Nothing better / Than making you my bride / And slowly growing<br />

old together.” But it’s not cheesy if it’s true <strong>—</strong> and, as Gibbard<br />

plaintively sings, “I want so badly to believe / That there is truth<br />

and love is real.”<br />

After many such songs in a row (plus a quick detour for a bubbly<br />

little number about air travel, which is perhaps the ideal thematic<br />

match for Tamborello’s naturally buoyant production), “This Place<br />

Is a Prison'' comes as a tonal shock. It’s almost impossible to<br />

make a “gilded cage” metaphor interesting, and the cynicism of<br />

the line “What does it take / To get a drink in this place” doesn’t<br />

track with Gibbard’s default sincerity (But in the hands of The<br />

National? Yes). No matter: Give Up closes with the honeyed<br />

fantasy worlds of “Brand New Colony” and “Natural Anthem,” two<br />

gorgeously constructed pop confections that start off laughably<br />

idealistic before becoming oddly convincing and then eventually<br />

downright realistic through sheer force of will. “Everything will<br />

change,” Gibbard sings wistfully, not knowing how right he’d be.<strong>—</strong><br />


This emotional maturity never veers into self-pity, and<br />

complements instead of clashes with the rest of the album’s<br />

moony-eyed impulses. And there are plenty, veering from the<br />

mechanics of spontaneous combustion (“We Will Become<br />

Silhouettes”) to a dream about the JFK assassination (“Sleeping<br />

In”). But songs like “Nothing Better” and “Clark Gable” are perhaps<br />




Peyton Reed<br />

The 31st (!) film in the never-ending Marvel Cinematic Universe,<br />

and the kickoff to its Phase Five (whatever that means), is<br />

Quantumania, the third entry in the Ant-Man series. But if you<br />

approach this latest effort hoping to recover the previous<br />

Ant-Man movies’ simple comic charms, relatively more grounded<br />

action sequences, and earnest goofball characters, well, you<br />

might be in for somewhat of a disappointment. But even given<br />

this installment’s placeholder status as both a wrap-up to a<br />

sorta-trilogy and a jumping-off point for a whole new run of<br />

these conveyor-belt blockbusters, it’s the first one in a little while<br />

that manages to realize some idiosyncrasy and affable silliness.<br />

Ant-Man, AKA Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has settled in nicely to<br />

post-Thanos celebrity. He’s written a cash-in tell-all<br />

autobiography about his time as an Avenger, he’s got a lovely<br />

thing going with Hope Van Dyne, AKA The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly),<br />

and he’s repaired his relationship with his formerly estranged<br />

daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton). Meanwhile, Hope’s dad,<br />

original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), has been happily<br />

reunited with his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Janet spent thirty<br />

years trapped in the Quantum Realm, a subatomic world where<br />

time and space do weird movie stuff and which allowed the<br />

Avengers to save everyone in Endgame.<br />

Anyway, uh-oh: turns out Hank and Cassie have been doing some<br />

science stuff tinkering in the tiny dimension. Janet seems<br />

immediately upset, but before anything can be done about that,<br />

everyone gets sucked into the aforementioned Realm. There they<br />

find that it isn’t quite the desolate landscape Janet previously<br />

claimed, but instead a bustling civilization all its own. There’s<br />

weird monsters, sentient buildings with cannons for arms,<br />

psychics, warrior women, and Bill Murray. On paper, the easy<br />

comparison (and one a lot of folks have already been making)<br />

would, of course, be a sort of mega Star Wars cantina scene, but<br />

in practice the intrinsic goofiness, deliberately stupid humor, and<br />

ludicrous designs have more in common with Douglas Adams.<br />

Also down here is Kang (Jonathan Majors), a very powerful being<br />

of some kind who has seized power and built an<br />


empire in order to escape the Quantum Realm for… well, for<br />

reasons that aren’t particularly clear. He seems to be a cruel<br />

tyrant, though, and Janet apparently has some history with him<br />

and is adamant that he can’t be allowed into our dimension. In<br />

any case, setting this guy up as the newest big bad guy in the<br />

MCU doesn’t really land, although Majors does at least bring a<br />

curious sadness to the character that lends a little intrigue.<br />

The humor in Quantumania is probably its strongest feature.<br />

Rudd remains an MCU secret weapon, making Scott the kind of<br />

guy whose aw-shucks sarcasm betrays a hint of narcissism that<br />

sits nicely alongside his earnestness. A scene in which a being<br />

made of goo interrogates him about how many holes his body<br />

has features Rudd taking a beat to count silently in his head; it’s<br />

a genuinely hilarious moment, and the movie consistently hits at<br />

that level of funny. Also hilarious: a recurring sight gag involving<br />

the legacy comics character M.O.D.O.K. and the digitally<br />

smooshed face of the actor who plays him. Mileages will vary<br />

with this bit, but it may just be the funniest thing to ever grace<br />

an MCU film.<br />

On the other hand, the rest of the digital work <strong>—</strong> which it will not<br />

surprise you to learn is a significant amount of the movie <strong>—</strong> is<br />

mostly abysmal. Certainly the green screen of it all has become a<br />

hallmark of the Marvel oeuvre, but aside from the human actors<br />

there seems to be barely a real physical element in the entire<br />

movie. It’s not that the design is bad <strong>—</strong> far from it <strong>—</strong> but there<br />

doesn’t seem to be any real weight to anything. Plus, the rusty<br />

red/brown color palette becomes pretty monotonous after a<br />

while, and that’s long before the traditional gigantic CGI<br />

conflagration that constitutes the third acts of these things<br />

arrives. Director Peyton Reed brought a lot of creative action and<br />

formal economy to the previous two Ant-Man movies, but there’s<br />

nothing to do with this most of the plot fodder here, and there’s a<br />

serious dearth of the<br />

big-stuff-gets-small-and-small-stuff-gets-big gags that drove<br />

those previous entries.<br />

Ultimately, what viewers will get out of Quantumania probably<br />

depends on what they’re willing to put in. It seems likely the film<br />

will land better for those who don’t particularly care about these<br />

damn Marvel movies, but are instead happy to have a good time<br />

with an amusing and deeply silly goof. For those who have any<br />

kind of stake in MCU products for any reason, this one might fall<br />

flat. And for anyone actively sick of them, avoid this at all costs.<br />

Qunatumania will do nothing to convert you. <strong>—</strong> MATT LYNCH<br />

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed; CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly,<br />

Jonathan Majors, Bill Murray; Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney Pictures; IN THEATERS: February 17;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 5 min.<br />

OF AN AGE<br />

Goran Stolevski<br />

Director Goran Stolevski has given his sophomore feature, Of an<br />

Age, a suitably malleable title that effectively expresses the<br />

various thematic and emotional preoccupations guiding the film.<br />

Most identifiably, it’s a coming-of-age story of a sort, or perhaps<br />

more accurately a coming-of-sexuality story. The film opens <strong>—</strong><br />

and mostly remains <strong>—</strong> in 1999 Melbourne. Kol (Elias Anton), a<br />

17-year-old Serbian immigrant, receives a frantic phone call from<br />

dance partner and friend, Ebony. She’s woken up on an unfamiliar<br />

beach, waterlogged, down one shoe, and without any idea how to<br />

make it home for the duo’s dance final in two hours. She’s a<br />

swirling mess of pure hysteria, and Stolevski stretches this<br />

opening sequence <strong>—</strong> of Kol’s scrambling to find and retrieve<br />

Ebony and of her barely discernible screeches into a grimy<br />

payphone <strong>—</strong> to its breaking point, opening his film into a<br />

profound state of anxiety (foreshadowing Kol’s inner turmoil).<br />

Ebony, who desperately doesn’t want her mother to find out<br />

about her late-night partying <strong>—</strong> she quickly dismisses the idea<br />

that the bump of speed she took was the cause of the chaos;<br />

“like half a line, a hyphen” <strong>—</strong> tells Kol to discreetly get ahold of<br />

her older brother Adam, who has a car. But by the time Adam<br />

picks up Kol, any hope the dancers have of making it to their<br />

final has evaporated, and the film settles into a much gentle<br />

register.<br />


It’s an effective, if a bit heavy-handed, subversion of the film that<br />

is to follow, which takes inspiration and cribs influence from the<br />

woozy rhythms and delicate romances of films like Weekend and<br />

Moonlight (more on those later), as well as Wong Kar-wai’s<br />



filmography (the director is even explicitly referenced). The<br />

director’s visual style here reflects that pivot, forgoing the more<br />

Malickian ethereality and formal experimentation of debut You<br />

Won’t Be Alone and its existential inclinations, and adopting a<br />

more intimate visual palette, captured in tight, dense<br />

compositions and shot in a lot of low light. This formal character<br />

really begins to assert itself during Adam and Kol’s extended<br />

driving sequence to pick up Ebony, one which finds the two<br />

young men getting to know each other. Adam, a handful of years<br />

or so older than Kol, is moving to Argentina the next day to<br />

pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics, while Kol opens up about his<br />

conservative family and struggles with high school life. This bit<br />

of bonding is mostly endearing, although it also reflects Of an<br />

Age’s worst tendencies: namely, the rather visible formula<br />

beneath the film’s lo-fi, swoony textures. The two bond over their<br />

talk of classic literature, establish a former-outsider-comfortscurrent-outsider<br />

dynamic, and embark on that favorite structure<br />

of romantic dramas: the 24-hour whirlwind (see again Weekend,<br />

but also the Before trilogy and Medicine for Melancholy for<br />

obvious aesthetic, emotional, and structural reference points<br />

here). And when the closeted Kol finds out that Adam is gay, he<br />

immediately overcompensates by dropping “bro” into every<br />

sentence. We’ve seen this all before.<br />

Of course, this is only a token act of resistance on Kol’s part, and<br />

the two soon become physically and emotionally intimate across<br />

the day's events. But Of an Age is much more than simply a<br />

“coming out” film; Stolevski clearly understands the reductive<br />

and regressive nature of such representation. Soon moving away<br />

from the familiar narrative beats that give pause in the early<br />

going, the film begins to lean more into another functional<br />

purpose of its title: capturing a specific time and place, and<br />

specifically the prevailing cultural attitudes toward queerness.<br />

Stolevski litters the early going with obvious signifiers of the<br />

1990s <strong>—</strong> references to dial-up Internet, cheap chain necklaces,<br />

car rides soundtracked by cassette tapes (if you want further<br />

evidence of the film’s particular aesthetic character, note that<br />

the diegetic music is mostly French tunes while myriad scenes<br />

are set to the non-diegetic likes of Live and The Cardigans <strong>—</strong><br />

recollecting a time when even the most progressive presentation<br />

of gay characters in the larger culture and media reduced them<br />

to periphery types and caricatures, and that’s when they weren’t<br />

being used in service of bad-taste gags. This isn’t mere<br />

affectation or period detail or autoficitive authenticity, however,<br />

but rather a carefully considered texturing that allows Of an Age<br />

to earn its pathos. For Kol, who is just now contending with his<br />

own identity, the tragedy of the day’s close feels real because of<br />

its time and place; the future is always murky, but it’s now<br />

murkier for him than it was 24 hours ago. (When Kol is first<br />

saying goodbye to Adam, without knowing they’ll see each other<br />

again, he offers a pitiful: “Have a safe and cool Ph.D.”) And then<br />

there are the potential power disparities at play with the older<br />

Adam entreating the impressionable Kol, which to this day an<br />

embarrassing percentage of society might point to as evidence<br />

of the predatory nature of all non-straight, gender-binary people.<br />

Stolevski instead uses that tension to emphasize the insidious<br />

power dynamics of all interpersonal relationships rooted in social<br />

mores (most reflected in Ebony, who consistently mistreats her<br />

outcast “friend”), which are historically slow-moving and<br />

bigotry-spawning.<br />

All of this leads to the film’s coda-esque final 20 minutes, which<br />

skips ahead 11 years, and finds both Kol and Adam returning for<br />

Ebony’s wedding. Immediately established here are the social<br />

shifts with regard to queerness: Kol, who in 1999 was constantly<br />

called a “homo” by his peers, is now living openly, and as such is<br />

the guest du jour for the bridesmaids, who all demand a dance<br />

and ask about his desire to marry. The treatment is kinder, but<br />

no less ambivalent of his interiority; their allegiance is to cultural<br />

whims. But this is also where Stolevski drops what is essentially<br />



the film’s thesis, and it’s an emotional doozy. Kol, pained by what<br />

he has learned of Adam’s life since they last saw each other all<br />

those years ago, attempts to leave the wedding early. Adam<br />

catches up with him, and Kol delivers a monologue of both<br />

profound nuance and power (Moonlight hat tip right here) about<br />

still feeling captive to the emotions of one day; joy at the<br />

experience, grief at its loss, and something more confused at<br />

its permanent affixment in his life. Despite the obvious<br />

touchstone-heavy nature of both this climactic scene and the<br />

film as a whole, Stolevski is smart to cut his romance with a<br />

necessary thorniness, understanding how the inherent inequity<br />

of connection and emotional experience can both shape and<br />

damage us, and the ways a life can directly flower from such<br />

formative moments. We can be emboldened by them, yes, but<br />

also forever trapped by their webs. It’s a moving bit of realism too<br />

infrequently sutured into films of a romantic bent, astute in its<br />

psychological acuity and moving in its raw emotionality. And it’s<br />

this quality, this commitment to imbuing familiar parts with<br />

surprising depth and grace, that allows Stolevski’s films to stand<br />

apart. The director is two films into his career and we’re yet to<br />

see a work unburdened of palpable influence, but he’s still<br />

outpacing most while still honing in on his own distinctive voice.<br />

<strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

DIRECTOR: Goran Stolevski; CAST: Elias Anton, Thom Green,<br />

Hattie Hook, Jack Kenny; DISTRIBUTOR: Focus Features; IN<br />

THEATERS: February 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 39 min.<br />


Neil Jordan<br />

For a director like Neil Jordan, whose long, seemingly<br />

middle-of-the-road filmography actually houses digressions from<br />

respectable adaptation into unrespectable pulp and soap, a<br />

Raymond Chandler homage would be expected, even more so a<br />

riff on a preexisting riff. Marlowe, named after the perennial<br />

detective, is itself based on John Banville’s The Black-Eyed<br />

Blonde, as much an homage to Chandler and Marlowe as it is a<br />

continuation, written under the pseudonym of Benjamin Black.<br />

Perhaps Jordan was able to recognize how the<br />

mpossible-to-replicate idiosyncrasies of Chandler sank<br />

otherwise capable filmmakers <strong>—</strong> like Robert Montgomery, whose<br />

1947 Lady in the Lake gets strangled by the author’s own cut-up<br />

obfuscation <strong>—</strong> and decided to put another degree of separation<br />

between himself and his source character for some guaranteed<br />

safety.<br />

Banville’s straight-ahead novel reads more as a personal test laid<br />

out by the author, to mimic Chandler’s prose sans alcoholism,<br />

depression, erratic focus, etc. The Black-Eyed Blonde <strong>—</strong> and thus,<br />

Marlowe <strong>—</strong> is built atop noir tropes: Mrs. Clare Cavendish (Diane<br />

Kruger) shows up at Marlowe’s (Liam Neeson) office, inexplicably<br />

asking for him to find an ex-lover, film extra Nico Peterson, who’s<br />

assumed dead, killed by a mobbed-up club owner (Danny<br />

Houston), but may be… alive? The “standards” of the plot already<br />

call attention to the deficiencies of Banville, and in turn, Jordan,<br />

who’s less making a palimpsest than he is a spiraling series of<br />

copycat gestures. Marlowe is most fascinating in its margins,<br />

bridging Dublin and Barcelona with faux-Angelino yellow filters,<br />

imparting the idea of perpetually unsteady ground, where<br />

“nothing is as it seems,” but quite literally.<br />

Is this intentional dissonance or laziness? Probably the latter, but<br />

Jordan is still too savvy not to realize the opportunity to render a<br />

more inscrutable sense of place as applied to Chandler’s prose,<br />

and has now taken to citing the original Blade Runner’s own Los<br />

Angeles as an inspiration. The jaundiced palette, the influx of<br />

disorienting neon in nighttime driving scenes (easily Marlowe’s<br />

most immediately pleasurable sequences), do little to restore the<br />

air that Neeson sucks out of the film every time his 100th screen<br />

role lumbers into view. He’s no Humphrey Bogart, nor is he Elliot<br />

Gould; he conveys little beyond his own Neesonness, a pillar of<br />

cinematic conventionality, effectively undercutting the modestly<br />

experimental spirit of Jordan. <strong>—</strong> PATRICK PREZIOSI<br />

DIRECTOR: Neil Jordan; CAST: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange,<br />

Diane Kruger, Danny Huston; DISTRIBUTOR: Open Road Films; IN<br />

THEATERS: February 15; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 50 min.<br />



EMILY<br />

Frances O’Connor<br />

If one thing can be said for the award-winning, box office-safe,<br />

well-worn road of the biopic, it’s that with the volume of films<br />

being made, at least directors are starting to get innovative with<br />

the form. With Emily, actress Frances O’Connor (making her<br />

writing and directing debut) embraces the lack of her heroine’s<br />

biographical detail and uses it to her advantage, taking the bare<br />

bones of what is known about Emily Brontë’s short life as a<br />

starting point for a gothic imagining of the Wuthering Heights<br />

writer’s relationship with her family and her first (and only)<br />

romantic love. Instead of following the typical biopic beats,<br />

however, O’Connor’s creative freedom manifests as something<br />

slightly more chaotic, forgoing fact in favor of an emotional<br />

honesty that feels entirely earned, and lends itself to O’Connor’s<br />

central conception of Brontë’s life as a short one lived with<br />

vibrant intensity.<br />

“Emily manages to sidestep<br />

some of the aesthetic<br />

conventions of its genre,<br />

leaning instead into horror<br />

and the distinctly gothic.<br />

With historical veracity a non-issue, O’Connor is able to branch<br />

out from the usual limitations of the biopic trope. Instead of<br />

feeling compelled to find ways to make the very act of writing (a<br />

notably solitary pursuit) cinematic, O’Connor makes her film<br />

entirely about the character herself rather than her craft. She<br />

assumes familiarity with Wuthering Heights, but by no means<br />

requires it, sparing her audience any knowing winks and nods to<br />

the novel, and focusing instead on a narrative that feels far more<br />

true to her imagined version of the author. Even more, Emily<br />

manages to sidestep some of the aesthetic conventions of its<br />

genre, leaning instead into horror and the distinctly gothic in one<br />

unsettling, mask-heavy sequence <strong>—</strong> one which O’Connor<br />

orchestrates in such a way as to provide a clear guide for other<br />

directors on how best to subvert the current-day biopic’s<br />

overwhelming staleness.<br />

Emily is also a film that features uniformly satisfying<br />

performances. But even so, Emma Mackey and Oliver<br />

Jackson-Cohen are a cut above. The former manages to animate<br />

Emily with an almost animalistic skittishness that lends her<br />

moments of stillness a deeply unnerving quality, and she remains<br />

grounded even in the film’s instances of romantic melodrama.<br />

Jackson-Cohen’s performance, which is largely centered around<br />

that very romantic melodrama, is an oddly brave one, avoiding<br />

falling into the role of yet another handsome bodice-ripper in<br />

favor of far more complex, less easily digestible character work.<br />

As local curate William Weightman, Jackson- Cohen perfectly<br />

marries the pathetic and disdainful with something genuinely<br />

magnetic, conjuring up a romantic lead who feels entirely<br />

synchronous with both Emily the character and Emily the movie,<br />

meeting Mackey halfway while never outshining her. O’Connor’s<br />

film finds success in balance, and the result of her consistently<br />

surprising approach is a pleasantly subversive work of sideways<br />

biography. <strong>—</strong> MOLLY ADAMS<br />

DIRECTOR: Frances O’Connor; CAST: Emma Mackey, Oliver<br />

Jackson-Cohen, Fionn Whitehead;; DISTRIBUTOR: Bleecker<br />

Street; IN THEATERS: February 17; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 10 min.<br />




Robbie Banfitch<br />

The found footage genre has proven itself to be quite resilient,<br />

particularly in the realm of horror. Pioneered by Ruggero<br />

Deodato, director of the 1980 cult film Cannibal Holocaust <strong>—</strong><br />

although Orson Welles made use of the technique when filming<br />

his 2018 drama, The Other Side of the Wind, in the 1970s,<br />

predating Deodato's Italian exploitation classic <strong>—</strong> the genre<br />

reached new heights of popularity at the end of the millennium<br />

with The Blair Witch Project. Although not the first of its kind, the<br />

film captivated audiences with its raw, immersive camerawork,<br />

and a marketing campaign that blurred the line between reality<br />

and fiction. But while there was a novelty to Blair Witch's<br />

infamous shaky cam cinematography, it has since become part<br />

of a widely understood cinematic grammar, sometimes being<br />

used to great effect and other times functioning mainly as an<br />

excuse to cut corners.<br />

Robbie Banfitch's The Outwaters, unfortunately, feels much like<br />

the latter. Following a group of thirty-somethings who are<br />

besieged by an extraterrestrial force, the film sets up its found<br />

footage conceit quickly with the help of a panicked 911 call that<br />

play over title cards indicating that Robbie (Robbie Banfitch),<br />

Angela (Angela Basolis), Scott (Scott Schamell), and Michelle<br />

(Michelle May) have all gone missing. The footage recovered from<br />

Robbie's camera by the Mojave County Police Department begins,<br />

innocently enough, with the group preparing to head into the<br />

Mojave Desert to shoot a music video for Michelle. Things go<br />

smoothly enough at first: the group makes it to the desert, goes<br />

for a swim in a shallow lake, and finally sets up camp by a<br />

hillside. But soon, strange phenomena begin to occur. What<br />

starts out as loud thunder and barely discernible figures lurking<br />

in the distance escalates into buckets of blood and gore, and<br />

screaming flesh snakes that look like they escaped a Spirit<br />

Halloween.<br />

The film's gear shift comes halfway through the runtime and is<br />

more than a little abrupt; the more it delves into genre<br />

indulgences, the less it convinces. Banfitch's attempts at<br />

ratcheting up the tension aren't completely devoid of excitement<br />

<strong>—</strong> naked axe murderers aren't exactly the most original horror<br />

adversaries, but seeing one in silhouette can still deliver decent<br />

chills <strong>—</strong> and there is an eerie quality inherent to the vastness of<br />

a desert. Unfortunately, the director <strong>—</strong> who also wrote, shot, and<br />

edited Outwaters <strong>—</strong> instead treats the audience to endless<br />

sequences of his characters stumbling aimlessly through the<br />

dark of night while choosing to keep the screen almost entirely<br />

black for minutes on end, the action only occasionally illuminated<br />

by a single flashlight beam.<br />



Given the modest budget with which Banfitch is working, perhaps<br />

some visual shortcomings can be forgiven. What's harder to<br />

gloss over, however, is all the other ways this film falls apart<br />

after the hour mark. Firstly, the skeletal narrative devolves into a<br />

disorienting and utterly shapeless shock montage that ranges<br />

from moderately effective to groan-inducing, never mind that it<br />

gives up on its found footage form as soon as the story begins to<br />

go off the rails, with numerous scenes featuring non-diegetic<br />

music as well as an increasingly comical devotion to keeping the<br />

camera running. Secondly, the writing <strong>—</strong> rarely the strong suit of<br />

films of this kind, to be fair <strong>—</strong> is dreadful. After being attacked by<br />

an axe-wielding stranger, Robbie suffers a head injury that<br />

leaves him severely disoriented, although he still manages to<br />

make his way back to camp in the pitch-black desert. Angela,<br />

who doesn't notice his injuries, asks him what's going on, to<br />

which he replies, "my head is raining," the sound of dripping<br />

blood accompanying the ridiculous line. Later on, as all four are<br />

being chased through the desert by an unknown entity, one of<br />

the girls can be heard sobbing and crying out for her mother,<br />

repeating, "I want my mommy" over and over.<br />

The rest of the runtime is mostly devoted to Robbie either<br />

fending off the unconvincing alien snakes, throwing up blood, or<br />

wandering the desert in his birthday suit. There are some<br />

implications of a time loop and a possible government<br />

conspiracy thrown in very late in the game, but by that point, The<br />

Outwaters is more or less completely lost. After sitting through<br />

the last of the film's underlit night scenes <strong>—</strong> a<br />

disturbing-but-not-really encounter with a creature that feels<br />

like a rip-off of Possession's tentacled monster <strong>—</strong> we are sent on<br />

our well-deserved way with one last parting gift: a character<br />

mutilating their own genitalia. Why, you ask? Likely because<br />

Banfitch knew someone with a knack for prosthetics. It surely<br />

wasn't because it’s related to anything in the interminable two<br />

hours that preceded.<br />

Microbudget horror is having somewhat of a moment currently,<br />

with the Canadian liminal space horror Skinamarink even<br />

surprisingly hitting North American theaters earlier this year. But<br />

with this mini-boom comes the chore of wading through endless<br />

genre detritus in hopes of coming across something worthwhile,<br />

which The Outwaters, sadly, isn’t.. If YouTube creepypasta clichés<br />

and 2000s-era shaky cam are all these cheapo films have to<br />

offer, it might be better to start giving young horror directors a<br />

budget (and some decent screenwriters) again. <strong>—</strong> FRED BARRETT<br />

DIRECTOR: Robbie Banfitch; CAST: Robbie Banfitch, Angela<br />

Basolis, Michelle May, Scott Schamell; DISTRIBUTOR: Cinedigm;<br />

IN THEATERS: February 9; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 50 min.<br />


Matthew Bauer<br />

What do a master spy, an ornithologist, and a bunch of regular<br />

dudes from around the world have in common? That’s the<br />

premise of Matthew Bauer’s new documentary, The Other Fellow,<br />

whose protagonists all share a name with MI6’s most notorious<br />

agent. The film opens with archival footage of Bond’s creator, Ian<br />

Fleming, acknowledging that he flagrantly lifted the moniker<br />

from one of his favorite bird-watching books. But who could have<br />

predicted that those two syllables would eventually become a<br />

mainstay of global pop culture? Many of Bauer’s interview<br />

subjects were born before the existence of the Hollywood<br />

franchise machine, and became unknowingly doomed to a deluge<br />

of ridicule and disbelief one man likens to a “plague of locusts.”<br />

Most view the association as a blessing and a curse, tediously<br />

hearing the same jokes over and over again, or dealing with<br />

endless comparisons to their suave, womanizing counterpart.<br />

And good luck trying to Google yourself.<br />

This complex love-hate dynamic drives some Bonds to change<br />

their name and others to exploit it <strong>—</strong> or, in the case of Gunnar<br />

Schäfer from Nyrbo, Sweden, embrace it to an almost<br />

pathological degree. As a child, Schäfer latched onto Fleming’s<br />

creation as the alpha-male role model he lacked when his father<br />

abandoned the family. In his wake, Schäfer was essentially raised<br />

by 007, adopting Bond’s mannerisms, wardrobe, and<br />

bachelordom. He even legally changed his name to “Bond<br />



James,” so that he can credibly (albeit confusingly) call himself<br />

“Bond. James Bond.” This personal obsession also bleeds into his<br />

professional life, since he operates the world’s only James Bond<br />

museum.<br />

In NYC, a theater director finds himself heralded by the local<br />

tabloids as “the real James Bond” despite being gay and<br />

possessing a “keg” rather than a six-pack. As much as he hates<br />

the inevitable media hoopla, he agrees to participate in various<br />

Bond-related stunts, including an appearance on David<br />

Letterman and a commercial for an Atlantic City casino. For him,<br />

these activities are a way to inject his own identity into a<br />

phenomenon that eclipses everyone but the Bond du jour. In<br />

another segment, various interviewees describe what it’s like<br />

having to address the police with a name that’s classic prank call<br />

fodder. In one instance, a Black man from South Bend, Indiana, is<br />

actually convicted of obstruction of justice for allegedly saying<br />

version” of his namesake can get away with it. “A Black James<br />

Bond is doomed.” Bauer connects this statement to the racism<br />

that Idris Elba faced when being considered to replace Daniel<br />

Craig, specifically the detractors who deemed him “too street” to<br />

play the role convincingly.<br />

But while these vignettes are entertaining in their own right, the<br />

most surprising and emotional James Bond origin story actually<br />

belongs to a woman. Escaping an abusive relationship with her<br />

young son, she eventually changes their names <strong>—</strong> take a wild<br />

guess what she comes up with <strong>—</strong> as a way to blend in and<br />

maintain their seclusion. It’s a ploy worthy of the real James<br />

Bond, and one that injects the otherwise lighthearted film with<br />

genuine pathos and suspense.<br />

At a brisk 80 minutes, Bauer and co-writer Rene van Pannevis let<br />

the Bonds speak for themselves, and even return to Fleming and<br />

his unwitting collaborator, the ornithologist who started it all. By<br />

the time the latter’s wife Mary angrily confronts the author, the<br />

cat’s out of the bag, and Fleming’s character is well on his way to<br />

becoming a pop culture mainstay. But the author returns her<br />

stern letter with the surprising offer for them to crib his name, a<br />

fanciful twist that wouldn’t be out of place in one of his novels. As<br />

far as we know, they haven’t taken him up on the offer. But the<br />

007 franchise shows no sign of slowing down, and the other<br />

James Bonds of the world seem to be coping with their<br />

secondhand infamy. But please, don’t ask them, “shaken or<br />

stirred?” They might respond with their own license to kill. <strong>—</strong><br />


DIRECTOR: Matthew Bauer; CAST: <strong>—</strong>; DISTRIBUTOR: Gravitas<br />

Ventures; IN THEATERS & STREAMING: February 17; RUNTIME: 1<br />

hr. 20 min.<br />





Albert Serra<br />

“An apparently dramatic break from the characteristics that have<br />

come to define it [Serra’s filmography]. Though not a total<br />

departure from his cinematic interests, Pacifiction at times<br />

comes off as a conscious realignment toward the values of the<br />

[Cannes] competition programmers, adopting a more<br />

conventional narrative structure and approach to staging… but<br />

what initially appears to be radical departure for this director<br />

quickly reveals itself to be of a piece with the logic that has<br />

previously dictated his filmmaking approach.” <strong>—</strong> M.G. MAILLOUX<br />

DIRECTOR: Albert Serra; CAST: Benoît Magimel, Pahoa<br />

Mahagafanua, Sergi López; DISTRIBUTOR: Grasshopper Film;<br />

IN THEATERS: February 17; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 42 min.<br />


Ruth Beckermann<br />

“Mutzenbacher as a whole, though, may be said to conduct an<br />

investigation that is archaeological in the sense Foucault gave<br />

the term. Beckermann’s conception is certainly pedagogical and<br />

didactic, but hers is a pedagogy and didacticism geared toward<br />

excavating the gap between the film’s subjects and the original<br />

text… In this way, Mutzenbacher functions as a kind of montage<br />

experiment without cutting, allowing Beckermann to<br />

demonstrate a fundamental lesson of the modern cinema: that if<br />

one only knows how to present them, it’s enough to let one’s<br />

subjects speak.” <strong>—</strong> LAWRENCE GARCIA<br />

DIRECTOR: Ruth Beckermann; CAST: <strong>—</strong>; DISTRIBUTOR: MUBI; IN<br />

THEATERS: February 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.<br />

21<br />




Robert Machoian<br />

“In… The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, [director Robert]<br />

Machoian announces his intentions right in the title. This is a<br />

morality play of sorts, the gradual realignment of a man<br />

seemingly too foolish to realize who is, and above all who he is<br />

not… Machoian and Crawford thread a tight needle with the<br />

character… [and] The Integrity of Joseph Chambers suggests<br />

that many different things can make you a man, but the ability to<br />

kill isn’t one of them.” <strong>—</strong> MICHAEL SICINSKI<br />

DIRECTOR: Robert Machoian; CAST: Clayne Crawford, Jordana<br />

Brewster, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Michael Raymond-James;<br />


February 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 36 min.<br />


Davy Chou<br />

“The film you’re probably picturing with its facile emotional arc,<br />

climactic encounter at its fulcrum, and an elliptical sigh of an<br />

epilogue might resemble the backbone of many an indie<br />

middlebrow before it, but this is not what Cambodian-French<br />

director Davy Chou has brought to the table. This is all to say that<br />

like its central heroine, Return to Seoul is unpredictable and<br />

flighty, charismatic and cutting, a film that flows from days to<br />

weeks to years with such bravado that you start to wonder why<br />

more won’t do the same..” <strong>—</strong> IGOR FISHMAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Davy Chou; CAST: Park Ji-min, Oh Gwang-rok, Kim<br />

Sun-young; DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Classics; IN<br />

THEATERS: February 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 59 min.<br />

22<br />



Lil Yachty<br />

Though it wasn’t actually that long ago, the<br />

pop music landscape into which Lil Yachty<br />

first emerged doesn’t really look the same<br />

as the one that exists today. Releasing his<br />

debut mixtape, Lil Boat, in 2016 right as<br />

trap’s cultural dominance was peaking, Lil<br />

Yachty’s music managed to stir up the<br />

genre’s last round of significant discourse;<br />

the jingly, simplistic nature of songs like<br />

“Minnesota” and “Good Day” reignited<br />

debates over the merit of so-called<br />


mumble rap years after fellow Atlanta<br />

compatriots Young Thug and Future had<br />

decisively put them to rest. But Yachty’s<br />

music was so proudly goofy and frivolous<br />

that Lil Boat was met with a fair amount<br />

of skepticism from critics who mostly<br />

saw the rapper/model/actor’s attempt at<br />

a lofty concept album (in which he<br />

embodies both the Yachty persona and<br />

his more aggressive cousin Lil Boat) as a<br />

juvenile take on trap music, undercooked<br />

even by the genre’s minimalist standards.<br />

Ultimately, the question of whether or not<br />

Yachty was an industry troll never really<br />

disrupted his career, the broader music<br />

culture already mostly committed to their<br />

poptimist slant; and besides all that, the<br />

act appeared mostly earnest, the persona<br />

carrying convincingly (if not always<br />

impressively) across two more Lil Boat<br />

mixtapes and an aptly titled studio album,<br />

King of Teens.<br />

The days of Yachty’s divisiveness are far<br />

behind us, his schtick long since<br />

absorbed into the contemporary pop<br />

canon, so it makes<br />

perfect sense that he’d<br />

be looking for a new<br />

angle from which to<br />

work: On Let’s Start<br />

Here, he redirects into<br />

the world of<br />

psychedelic rock music.<br />

Remarkably, this career<br />

reset has managed to<br />

command the Internet’s<br />

attention, provoking<br />

social media<br />

back-and-forths over<br />

the project’s<br />

authenticity<br />

reminiscent of the<br />

commotion around Lil<br />

Boat. However, unlike<br />

Yachty’s keenly timed<br />

debut, his latest doesn’t<br />

feel especially vital nor<br />

likely to prove<br />

trendsetting <strong>—</strong> the<br />

rapper’s<br />


pivot to consciousness-expanding rock n’<br />

roll music comes some years late to the<br />

trend and offers little in the way of its<br />

expansion.<br />

Pulling from a similar collection of sound<br />

and inspirations as Kid Cudi and A$AP<br />

Rocky, Let’s Start Here recasts Yachty as a<br />

blissed out psychonaut crusading against<br />

the cruelties of the modern, material<br />

world. As per usual, it's hard to doubt the<br />

warbly MC’s sincerity as embodied in his<br />

new, enlightened outlook (although 2021’s<br />

Michigan Boy Boat suggested a<br />

harder-edged direction that showed more<br />

promise), and his positioning within the<br />

industry has earned him access to a lineup<br />

of excellent, relevant collaborators<br />

(Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly’s production in<br />

particular, with standout contributions<br />

from Alex G, Mac DeMarco, and MGMT’s Ben<br />

Goldwasser), so that Let’s Start Here is at<br />

least never a true drag. But it's never a<br />

very satisfying album either, its aesthetic<br />

largely borrowed and performed<br />

competently but without much verve or<br />

originality. Which isn’t to say that there<br />

aren’t satisfying grooves (“running out of<br />

time” is admittedly catchy, if still skewing<br />

a little too theatrical) or the occasional<br />

spark of inspiration (the ebullient power<br />

pop switch-up of “The Alchemist.”<br />

suggests a much more thrilling album<br />

somewhere in between this and Michigan<br />

Boat Boy). But this project feels effortful in<br />

the worst ways, its songs all overly refined<br />

and commercial-ready. And while Yachty<br />

remains a mostly harmless artist, the<br />

wisdoms he espouses on Let’s Start Here<br />

leave much to be desired, the album<br />

hitting a low point almost immediately on<br />

“the BLACK seminole” when he muses,<br />

“Love is not a lie / It just feels like a<br />

Tarantino movie scene.” At worst a<br />

somewhat cringey attempt at a rebrand,<br />

Let’s Start Here at least manages to coast<br />

off of Lil Yachty’s charming presence and<br />

unaffected approach to the material, but<br />

much cultural resonance beyond these<br />

already established virtues can’t be<br />

expected. <strong>—</strong> M.G. MAILLOUX<br />

LABEL: Motown/Quality Control Records;<br />

RELEASE DATE: January 27<br />


Yo La Tengo<br />

In nearly four decades, New Jersey’s Yo<br />

La Tengo have never taken a real break,<br />

with the smallest gap between records<br />

being a measly four years. Alongside their<br />

studio albums, the group has also written<br />

soundtracks for Jean Painlevé’s<br />

underwater documentaries, Kelly<br />

Reichardt’s masterful Old Joy, and the Don<br />

DeLillo-penned Game 6, as well as being<br />

heavily featured in the films of Hal<br />

Hartley. All that work has resulted in Yo La<br />

Tengo developing a moderate (in relation<br />

to peers such as Pavement or Sonic<br />

Youth) but engaged and dedicated<br />

following; through experimentation and a<br />

dedication to the production of<br />

fascinating covers, they have become<br />

more than just your average indie rock<br />

band. This Stupid World marks the trio’s<br />

seventeenth studio album, and finds<br />


them continuing in their traditional style,<br />

which carefully oscillates between the<br />

beautifully delicate and energetically<br />

noisy.<br />

Nothing highlights this dichotomy more<br />

than opener “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,”<br />

which begins with a minute of swirling<br />

fuzz and settles into a calmer rhythm. But<br />

that noise never fades, and the song<br />

retains a brash guitar riff that cuts into<br />

the soothing bass and vocals that carry<br />

the song along. For many musicians who<br />

would combine these quite disparate<br />

sounds, the threat of collapse into<br />

incoherent mess is very real, but Yo La<br />

Tengo makes the fusion feel incredibly<br />

natural. The following track (and This<br />

Stupid World’s lead single), “Fallout,” opens<br />

with an irresistibly catchy riff and an<br />

enticing vocal hook; the song is<br />

reminiscent of previous hits like 1997’s<br />

“Sugarcube,” albeit slightly more haunting<br />

here. This one-two punch also makes<br />

great use of the band's multiple vocalists;<br />

both rely on overlapping harmonies, but<br />

the album’s exquisite mixing ensures no<br />

part of the sound is ever confused.<br />

On “Aselestine,” Yo La Tengo briefly slows<br />

This Stupid World’s pace with a short, lo-fi<br />

acoustic cut which proves to be a more<br />

stripped-down track than any other on<br />

the album. Despite its minimalism, the<br />

song forgoes the sense of melancholia<br />

that <strong>—</strong> for better and worse <strong>—</strong> so often<br />

accompanies spare arrangements; this<br />

band has constantly proved capable of<br />

creating thoughtful, sensitive music that<br />



doesn’t wallow in sadness, and that<br />

balance remains perfectly in place here.<br />

Like all of This Stupid World’s tracks (and<br />

most of Yo La Tengo’s material), the song’s<br />

lyrics don’t seek to convey any profound<br />

meaning or trade in intimate<br />

introspection; instead, they offer more<br />

direct and relatable expressions of pure<br />

emotion. Lyrics like “Push the pin / Into<br />

the map / And I find you” or “I see the<br />

moon rise as the sun descends / So far<br />

from you” might feel basic in isolation,<br />

but they are so seamlessly and<br />

organically integrated into the band’s<br />

graceful music that it’s hard not to be<br />

moved at least some of the time.<br />

The rest of This Stupid World is tightly<br />

constructed and never falls into<br />

complacency. From the seven-minute<br />

title track <strong>—</strong> which remains the album’s<br />



loudest and most experimental<br />

jam <strong>—</strong> to the jangly pop chords of<br />

“Apology Letter,” no two songs occupy the<br />

same sonic space, though there remains a<br />

strong sense of cohesion to the project. It would<br />

be easy to declare This Stupid World Yo La<br />

Tengo’s best album in a decade (and realistically,<br />

it probably is), but that language could also be<br />

construed to suggest an essential deficiency to<br />

their work of the last ten years, which would<br />

certainly be an inaccurate examination. They’re<br />

a band who remain fairly immutable in their<br />

eminence and constancy, with even their lesser<br />

records remaining worthy products. And so, while<br />

their sound has never changed to any drastic<br />

degree <strong>—</strong> which is so often a death knell for artists<br />

<strong>—</strong> and their career has never propelled them to<br />

mainstream stardom, Yo La Tengo have produced<br />

one of the most steadfastly outstanding<br />

discographies of the past several decades, to which<br />

This Stupid World is another brilliant addition. <strong>—</strong><br />


LABEL: Matador Records;<br />

RELEASE DATE: February 10<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Grasshopper Film; Page 1,2,4 - Lionsgate; Page 5 - Óscar Fernández Orengo;<br />

Page 7,8 - Grasshopper Film; Page 9,10 - Criterion Collection/Warner Bros.; Page 11 - Brian<br />

Tamborello; Page 12 - Sub Pop Records; Page 13 - Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios; Page 16 - Thuy<br />

Vy/Of An Age Films Pty Ltd; Page 17 - Bleecker Street; Page 18 - Courtesy of Cinedigm; Page 20 -<br />

Gravitas Ventures; Page 21 - Grasshopper Film; Page 22 - Visit Films; Page 23 - Quality Control<br />

Music/Motown Records; Page 25,26 - Cheryl Dunn/Matador Records; Back Cover - Focus Features

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