InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 16

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THE BODY<br />

An Interview With Lucien<br />

Castaing-Taylor & Véréna<br />

Paravel <strong>—</strong> 1<br />


TOTAL RECALL <strong>—</strong> 7<br />

YOUTH OF THE BEAST <strong>—</strong> 9<br />

DEAD RINGERS <strong>—</strong> 11<br />


BEAU IS AFRAID <strong>—</strong> 13<br />

EVIL DEAD RISE <strong>—</strong> 15<br />

TRENQUE LAUQUEN <strong>—</strong> 17<br />

THE COVENANT <strong>—</strong> 17<br />

CHEVALIER <strong>—</strong> 18<br />

OTHER PEOPLE’S CHILDREN <strong>—</strong> 19<br />

GHOSTED <strong>—</strong> 19<br />

PLAN 75 <strong>—</strong> 20<br />

CARMEN <strong>—</strong> 21<br />

DRY GROUND BURNING <strong>—</strong> 23<br />

THE POPE’S EXORCIST <strong>—</strong> 23<br />

SOMEWHERE IN QUEENS <strong>—</strong> 24<br />

CHERRY <strong>—</strong> 26<br />

TO CATCH A KILLER <strong>—</strong> 26<br />

JUDY BLUME FOREVER <strong>—</strong> 28<br />

THE REAL THING <strong>—</strong> 29<br />


IVE <strong>—</strong> 30<br />

Zelooperz <strong>—</strong> 31<br />

April 21, 2023<br />

<strong>Volume</strong> 1, <strong>Issue</strong> <strong>16</strong>

Re-Interrogating the Body<br />

An Interview With Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel<br />

Anthropologist-filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and<br />

Véréna Paravel’s work dissolves the space between their camera and their subject. Previous films<br />

Leviathan and Caniba both treat their respective subjects <strong>—</strong> the marine landscapes of commercial fishing, the domestic world of an<br />

infamous cannibal <strong>—</strong> with startling intimacy, but the proximity of their filmmaking finds new extremes with De Humani Corporis<br />

Fabrica, an observational exploration of eight Parisian hospitals. This new film unfolds across subterranean infirmary tunnels,<br />

operating tables, and inside patients’ bodies; it was assembled over the course of six years, and presents an unflinching document of<br />

state-of-the-art surgical procedures, directing our gaze to otherwise unseeable sights of the human interior.<br />

In the spirit of Stan Brakhage’s monumental autopsy documentation The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, De Humani probes the<br />

experience of looking at otherwise imperceptible depths of the human body. The film facilitates an encounter between spectators<br />

and the most disavowed corners of their biology. There’s no shortage of haunting corporeal images, visions of the body at its most<br />

frail and vulnerable <strong>—</strong> and yet the film asks us to reckon with what it means to be repelled by the sight of our own biology. At the crux<br />

of De Humani’s ambitious feat (both formally and thematically) is the groundwork for a new relationship with our own bodies, beyond<br />

fear and abjection. I spoke with Castaing-Taylor and Paravel about bodily anxiety and the political imperative of looking at the body in<br />

De Humani; Alice Diop’s reaction to the film; David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future; the work of Walter Benjamin; and plenty more.<br />

As I understand it, the idea for your last movie, Caniba, began with you researching Japanese Pink films and then reorienting<br />

your focus towards Issei Sagawa when you realized he appeared in a Hisayasu Satō film. Did De Humani have a similar<br />

trajectory of shifting focus, or was the central concept solidified from the beginning of your research?<br />

LCT: We read an interview that we apparently gave to a French newspaper called Libération <strong>—</strong> a New York Times-y thing for France <strong>—</strong> I<br />

think in 2011 that said we were already working on this project, which is hard to believe. I think it was just in the idea stage. There<br />


were lots of original ideas. One of them was Walter Benjamin’s<br />

concept of the Optical Unconscious, where he basically<br />

compared the way cinema allows us to perceive the world to the<br />

way a surgeon making an incision in the body can perceive the<br />

body. I never really believed in that metaphor, even though it’s<br />

very trendy in critical theory/academic circles. But I wanted to<br />

put it to the test… what would happen if we literalized that<br />

metaphor? What does it mean to study surgery with an empirical<br />

visual proximity and intensity that’s never really been done before?<br />

That was one conceptual start.<br />

We started filming in university-affiliated hospitals in Boston. But<br />

it was impossible to make this film in the US because the<br />

doctors no longer have any rights over the imagery they need to<br />

undertake these surgeries. Though the medical staff was super<br />

open, the hospital administrations were really closed-off. It<br />

would’ve been different if we were coming in from some major<br />

cable network and could’ve given them millions of dollars, but<br />

that wasn’t an option. Then we met François Crémieux, who was<br />

the head of some hospitals in Paris. He does many things. He’s<br />

not really a filmmaker himself, but he did make three films with<br />

Chris Marker: The Balkan Trilogy. He runs a<br />

medical-philosophy-anthropology cinema club in Paris.<br />

[Verena Paravel puffs a vape cloud into the webcam.]<br />

LCT: You just blew smoke in his face.<br />

VP: Sorry.<br />

LCT: Anyway, [Crémieux]’s very interested in bringing<br />

non-medical perspectives. Unlike in the US, he gave us carte<br />

blanche to film anything in the [French] hospitals he was then<br />

director of.<br />

VP: My memory of the project’s genesis is when I was reading<br />

The Boston Globe, which is very strange because I would never<br />

read The Boston Globe. There was a story about how, during<br />

medical training, you’re given a cadaver at the beginning of the<br />

semester. Then, you work on this cadaver during your whole<br />

semester: doing dissection, learning anatomy, learning surgery.<br />

One student was given a cadaver at the beginning of the year<br />

and, when she unveiled the face, it was her aunt. She fainted and<br />

everything. I remember being horrified by the story and, at the<br />

same time, with my weird humor, I found it hilarious. I told<br />

Lucien, “Can you imagine the violence of unveiling and seeing it’s<br />

your family member who’d given their body to science?” We<br />

looked at each other and started to think about what it means to<br />

give your body to science and what’s being done with your body.<br />

Harvard is a place with so many cadavers because of the<br />

prestige. People in this country have the ability to say not only<br />

“I’m going to give my body to science,” but also specify where<br />

you want your body to go. Harvard has a ridiculous amount of<br />

bodies, whereas the rest of medical schools have a serious lack<br />

of bodies to train students. That was the beginning of our<br />

discussion, and we both said at the exact same time: “We should<br />

make a film about that.”<br />

LCT: There’s this expression, “If you can’t get into Harvard when<br />

you’re alive, you can get in when you’re dead.” But you don’t know<br />

that they can also sell your body to other medical schools.<br />

VP: That was the entrance into the hospital world. Then, we soon<br />

realized [filming] in America was too complicated because of<br />

the culture of suing for no reason, for every reason, and every<br />

opportunity. François Crémieux was the key: the miraculous<br />

magic formula to get into the hospital. Once you get in there, it’s<br />

an immense resource of ideas because the hospital itself is a<br />

society in miniature. It’s a microcosm where you feel what’s<br />

going on in society: the violence, the conflicts, religious belief,<br />

social-cultural behavior. Everything is there because the whole<br />

world is coming to the hospital without any filter. Everybody is<br />

there. It’s not that we are equal in front of disease, but we all end<br />

up in hospitals at some point. We all die. We all have a body that<br />

is more or less made of the same organs. That’s an amazing<br />

vantage point.<br />

LCT: Until working in the French public hospitals, the original<br />

conceptual idea we had is indicated by the title. De Humani<br />

Corporis Fabrica, that’s the title of the founding tome of Western<br />

anatomy by a Flemish physician named Andreas Vesalius. There<br />

were seven books in that work. His sense of anatomy was very<br />

revolutionary but it’s now completely outdated. The idea is that<br />

we’d make a film with seven parts, films, or movements. Each<br />

would use a different, contemporary cutting-edge medical<br />

scoping technology that’s come into being the last 10-15 years.<br />


Each would be filmed only by that imaging device in seven<br />

different countries. The idea was a much more global approach<br />

to the ways medical imagery allows us to perceive the body in a<br />

way that had never been possible before in history. But also, in<br />

the ways doctors themselves perceive their bodies when they’re<br />

objectifying them, when they’re subjectifiying them, when they’re<br />

mutilating them, when they’re trying to heal them. But it’s a kind<br />

of vision that the rest of the world, aside from these surgeons,<br />

have no access to. The idea was to open up that vision to<br />

humanity at large.<br />

When we got to Paris, we let go of the idea of having seven<br />

different countries, seven different surgical inventions, seven<br />

different scoping technologies because it was absurdly<br />

unprecedented to be afforded carte blanche. To have complete,<br />

unrestricted access was such an opportunity that we didn’t want<br />

to be constrained by the conceptual framework we initially had.<br />

I’m curious about the approach you took to shooting the<br />

surgeries. Did your logistical setup of the camera and its<br />

apparatus vary dramatically from operation-to-operation or<br />

was it consistent throughout?<br />

LCT: The original idea was: we wouldn’t film ourselves. We’d only<br />

record sound and all the imagery in the film would come from<br />

the medical cameras: laparoscopic and celioscopic cameras<br />

that were inside the bodies which the doctors were looking at. So<br />

that footage would be synced up with the sound mostly outside<br />

the body or on the bodies with contact microphones. We’re both<br />

very impetuous and we’re both very ocular centric creatures. So<br />

quite soon, in order to allow ourselves to focus, we also started<br />

filming outside the body. Initially, we used a conventional<br />

camera. But the imagery that gave us wasn’t very exciting and<br />

looked like things we’d seen before. Then we experimented and,<br />

with an amazing engineer in Zurich, fabricated a lipstick camera:<br />

a camera that, as closely as possible, resembles the same optics<br />

and aesthetics as the camera the doctors use. That camera was<br />

breaking down the whole time and we had to find a way to touch<br />

the lens without it burning our hands. But it basically stayed the<br />

same throughout.<br />

Of course, the film is nothing. It’s two hours or something out of<br />

350 hours. Each time we filmed a surgical procedure, and we<br />

filmed hundreds of them, the kind of imagery that the doctors<br />

themselves were using changes according to the operation they<br />


were performing, according to the hospital, according to their<br />

resources, etc.<br />

When I saw the movie with an audience last September, I<br />

was struck by very audible exclamations from other people<br />

in the theater. Was that visceral, almost spectacle-like<br />

reception something you anticipated?<br />

VP: We never really have an audience in mind. We were just<br />

worried about being extremely precise. We were expecting the<br />

audience to be maybe a bit touched or overwhelmed at some<br />

points. I think we knew somehow it’s a film that would be lived<br />

and experienced very subjectively. What I’m saying is super<br />

banal because it’s the case for every film. But in this case, it’s a<br />

little different because, as we said earlier, everybody has a body<br />

and everyone has a very particular relationship with their body.<br />

It’s not the same if somebody’s had a prostatectomy. Or if<br />

somebody’s had breast cancer. Or somebody had a parent who<br />

died or who had dementia… They will experience the film<br />

completely differently. We knew this was something we could not<br />

control. When you write a book, you cannot control how the book<br />

is going to be read. This is the case with every film you make.<br />

And this one in particular, we knew that. We did try to be careful<br />

with that because there are many things we didn’t put into the<br />

film because we thought maybe it was just too hard.<br />

LCT: We had to censor ourselves a lot. It doesn’t seem like it<br />

when you see the film because it’s so overwhelming for many<br />

people. But there was so much we took out even though it was<br />

extremely beautiful and incredibly moving or displayed an ethic<br />

of care we thought was really important. It would just be<br />

unwatchable for most viewers. The body is super weird because<br />

it’s the thing we’re closest to in our lives. Your body is the only<br />

thing in the world that you yourself experience from the inside<br />

as well as the outside. It is the most permanent and present<br />

thing in our lives. And yet it is shrouded in taboo, with anxiety<br />

and alienation. Despite its centrality in our lives <strong>—</strong> all we do is<br />

stare at each other’s bodies and inspect our own <strong>—</strong> we have<br />

difficulties transgressing membrane and skin and looking inside<br />

the body.<br />

We weren’t naïve in thinking that wouldn’t generate anxiety, but<br />

we thought it’s important not to turn away our gaze but to<br />

engage with the most important subject in our lives: bodies. We<br />

spend our whole lives pretending we don’t know we’re going to<br />

die. It’s the only thing we know. And we just repress that<br />

knowledge as much as we can. By visualizing the body, we see<br />

our fragility, our resilience. And of course, its fragility is going to<br />

be deeply anxiety-inducing.<br />

VP: Or the contrary. Yesterday, Alice Diop was visiting our class.<br />

She saw the film, and she said she was so scared. We had the<br />

film projected for her, and she was like, “No stay with me! Stay<br />

with me!” At some point I needed to leave, and when I came<br />

back, she was completely transfixed. When the film ended, she<br />

said “I think it healed me.” For her, it was completely therapeutic.<br />

She’s not afraid anymore.<br />

For me, the movie got me to dissect the aversion I felt to<br />

some of the images of the inside of the body and to confront<br />

what it means to look at flesh and feel repulsion to your own<br />

biology. Which was a really unique encounter. I was also<br />

wondering if any of the patients saw the footage of their own<br />

operations?<br />

LCT: Thing is, we filmed hundreds of patients and hundreds of<br />

medical personnel of different stripes. There were all these<br />

screenings in Paris in December and January, like 20 or 30, and<br />

they were invited to many of them. So, we were present for some<br />

of those but not all. The person who had the first operation in the<br />

film <strong>—</strong> the brain surgery for hydrocephalus [treated with] an<br />

endoscopic third ventriculostomy <strong>—</strong> studied his medical<br />

procedure at length in the final cut. That’s also true for some<br />

others. But there’s no way of knowing what percentage of<br />

doctors or patients have seen the film. There were some doctors<br />

and medical staff who came and saw rough cuts towards the<br />

end; we wanted to make sure they found it accurate and not a<br />

misrepresentation. But most people only saw the final film.<br />

What’s the division of labor between the two of you? Are<br />

there specific roles that you individually assume?<br />

LCT: One of us would hold the lipstick camera and the other<br />

would hold the sound. In past films, like Caniba or Leviathan,<br />

there was no division of labor. With Leviathan, the filming<br />

conditions were difficult so one of us would have to hold onto<br />


the other to make sure they didn’t fall overboard. But even in that<br />

case, whoever was the least exhausted would hold the camera.<br />

But that also had sound. In this case, we added a microphone to<br />

the camera, so we’d alternate without rhyme or reason. It was<br />

also exhausting; we’d get up and bike to the hospital an<br />

hour/hour-and-a-half every morning at 5 AM. Then we’d get back<br />

at midnight. Whoever was least exhausted would usually hold the<br />

camera and the other one would do the sound.<br />

Do you often find your two approaches and ideas are<br />

simpatico? Or do you find yourselves disagreeing about what<br />

the movie should be?<br />

LCT: There’s almost invariably antipatico. They’re not at all<br />

sympathetic. We fight like cats and dogs.<br />

VP: C'est complètement faux [translation: That’s completely<br />

wrong].<br />

LCT: She’s already disagreeing with me. At the end of a day, one<br />

of us, especially during editing but even during filming, will feel<br />

one way and the other will feel the other. Then, when we meet<br />

again in the editing studio the following morning, I will have<br />

changed position and come to her point of view. And she will<br />

have come to mine. Then we’re like “fuck” because each of us<br />

thinks the opposite. So it’s a constant<strong>—</strong>sorry, it’s a big, stupid<br />

word<strong>—</strong>dialectic going back and forth between the two of us. We<br />

never come to any particular consensus. Every spectator makes<br />

up something different than every other spectator according to<br />

individuality, nationality, gender, race, class position: multiple<br />

different variables that are uncontrollable. Even us, we never<br />

have a singular intellectual perspective; the film still means<br />

different things to us. And what it means to each of us changes<br />

through time. We’re still learning about the film by interacting<br />

with audiences.<br />

VP: I agree… I almost agree, actually. You’re completely right<br />

about the fighting or dialectical process. Can you imagine<br />

agreeing with yourself and being alone? Since we edit<br />

[ourselves], it’s two brains rather than one. It’s like having a<br />

conversation. Somehow, we need the other to trust what we’re<br />

doing. But also, especially when we look at our footage, there is a<br />

common sensibility that is sometimes mind-blowing. Very often<br />

we’re having the same reaction at the same half-second,<br />


vibrating in front of the same images. There is a shared<br />

sensibility that is extremely important in our work and<br />

collaboration.<br />

LCT: Even if I don’t vibrate as much as you.<br />

You talked about how Benjamin’s metaphor of the Optical<br />

Unconscious was a starting point, and you talked about how<br />

you’ve never fully bought into it. I’m wondering how the<br />

process of making the movie and thinking back on making it<br />

have changed your understanding of Benjamin’s metaphor?<br />

LCT: It’s complicated… it would take ten pages. Even in ten years<br />

when [the movie] will be in the past, but especially now when it’s<br />

been out for only a couple months in France or almost a year in<br />

festivals. Though we haven’t been to many festivals because it’s<br />

absurd post-COVID in the climate crisis to travel to all these<br />

festivals. But it’s not as if now we’ve reached a certain particular<br />

understanding of either Benjamin or the body. When we started<br />

filming in Paris, not only did the seven-part structure go out the<br />

window but so did the interrogation of that metaphor, partially.<br />

Our understanding of the body and medicine was, and is, in<br />

constant flux.<br />

I still don’t think [Benjamin’s] metaphor holds that much water.<br />

He’s a terribly authoritarian writer who’s completely à la mode in<br />

American universities. To think there’s an optical unconscious<br />

equivalent to the instinctive/psychic unconscious that Freud was<br />

exploring… I don’t think that holds up. He thought painting could<br />

only represent the world from the outside; it was destined or<br />

doomed to have an exterior regard on the world, whereas film<br />

would blow the world asunder in the dynamite of a <strong>16</strong> th of a<br />

second, as he called it. Then, in the detritus of what it captured:<br />

a new vision of the world. It was still very teleological and very<br />

technofilic and romanticized the camera’s vision. The camera’s<br />

vision is as flawed and partial as human vision. In many ways, it’s<br />

not a superhuman vision as Vertov thought; it’s less than human<br />

vision. It’s a constant struggle to work with these audio-visual<br />

technologies, to give us a new perspective on reality and to<br />

perceive the world in ways our own eyes don’t. Or to augment<br />

that apprehension we have of the world. It’s not easy and it’s not<br />

as if there’s one methodology or technology you can pursue that<br />

would allow for that.<br />

VP: Wow…<br />

LCT: We should write on this at some point because, honestly,<br />

it’s a super interesting question.<br />

VP: As I was listening to you, I said, “This is exactly telepathic.<br />

When you were talking I thought, ‘we always refuse to write, but<br />

why?’”<br />

LCT: Because we can’t write. That’s why we use images and<br />

sound… You can write, but I can’t write.<br />

VP: I cannot… you can.<br />

LCT: I also think there’s a political imperative to look at the body,<br />

especially now. With COVID, it’s terrifying how little humanity<br />

seems to have learned from that pandemic. I was really<br />

optimistic during it that there’d be a radically different<br />

relationship to the environment, to the world, to the<br />

extra-human. But I do think we have been fragilized about our<br />

bodies, our mortality. Now is the time to contemplate our<br />

relationship to other species and to the natural world through<br />

the prism of our bodies. The hope is that people like Alice [Diop]<br />

who watch this film, which is very violent in many ways, will<br />

perceive an incredible kind of tenderness. Paradoxically,<br />

perhaps, they’re able to reconcile <strong>—</strong> as you were <strong>—</strong> with their<br />

bodies.<br />

It’s not disgusting, it’s not gory. People often compare it with<br />

Cronenberg’s film [Crimes of the Future]. It’s the opposite of<br />

Cronenberg’s film. But I still think there’s this prohibition about<br />

looking at one’s body that has to be interrogated. And if we’re<br />

going to have a healthy relationship to the rest of the world,<br />

other species (animal, plant, and mineral), that has to start<br />

with a capacity for reinterrogating our own relationship to our<br />

bodies.<br />

VP: I was talking about the hospital as a microcosm of society,<br />

but the body itself is. It’s a place of multiple cohabitation<br />

between viruses and bacteria. It’s also a place that cannot be<br />

sustainable if you want to push the metaphor of being alive.<br />

There’s no body that can survive without the care of other<br />

bodies. <strong>—</strong> INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY RYAN AKLER-BISHOP<br />




Paul Verhoeven<br />

"Reality is that which, when you<br />

stop believing in it, doesn't go away."<br />

- Philip K. Dick<br />

With his bionic biceps threatening to split his skin wide open in a<br />

fashion not dissimilar to the Hulk with his shirts and that endearing<br />

accent, sort of Russian but not quite, that he never shook, Arnold<br />

Schwarzenegger, an immigrant, was the paradigm of big dumb '80s<br />

American action movies, a hulky hero who could mow down droves of<br />

nondescript bad guys with a machine gun so big it's comical while<br />

tossing out lovably lame one-liners with a wry smile that lets you know<br />

he loves this. And the joy, the unfettered joy with which he<br />

serves those quips, often bad puns that don't sound so<br />

different from a Dad Joke, is the kind of acting<br />

you don't learn from the Actors Studio.<br />



In the '80s, after Sylvester Stallone <strong>—</strong> who, remember, got<br />

famous with an intimate, modest film playing a bum who refuses<br />

to give up on his dreams with aching vulnerability <strong>—</strong> made the<br />

move to machismo and bombast, moviegoers were given a<br />

choice: Team Arnold or Team Sly. It's not really a fair comparison,<br />

as Stallone is also a writer and director (and a good one, too,<br />

adroit at montage in ways that hark back to the great Russian<br />

filmmakers of the silent era) and was a respected actor before<br />

he transmogrified into the corporeal personification of<br />

testosterone; Arnold was a bodybuilder, the best ever, who<br />

became an actor to further engorge his ego (watch Pumping Iron<br />

and witness his narcissism and bloated sense of<br />

self-importance) and who found early success in the movies<br />

playing big meaty men. He soon developed an inimitable charm<br />

that made him one of American cinema's most enthralling<br />

presences, a Reagan-era John Wayne, but he was never<br />

considered a good actor.<br />

Well, Arnold's pretty good in Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, a loose<br />

adaptation of a story by perpetually poor pill-popper Philip K.<br />

Dick. As Doug Quaid, a hulky nobody who becomes an<br />

interplanetary hero, or maybe has a schizoid embolism after a<br />

memory implantation operation gone awry, Arnold exudes that<br />

inimitable charm that made him a megastar. But it's here<br />

tinctured with a self-awareness (the embryonic stage of the kind<br />

of honest self-exploration that imbues his performance in the<br />

great Last Action Hero, still his best role) that, if you interpret the<br />

film <strong>—</strong> as Verhoeven does <strong>—</strong> as the fantasy of a Joe Schmo who<br />

dreams of being somebody important, is actually pretty sad. Go<br />

back to Pumping Iron <strong>—</strong> the seminal documentary purveying the<br />

world of bodybuilding <strong>—</strong> when Arnold, then 27 years old and<br />

already a legend and almost heavenly idol to his acolytes (see:<br />

the scene at the prison), openly indulged his egotism, literally<br />

saying he admires "powerful men," like dictators, and aspires for<br />

greatness <strong>—</strong> and not just greatness, but being the best at<br />

everything he does. In Total Recall, he plays an unexceptional guy<br />

who wants to be great, who finds his dreams literally in his<br />

dreams while he sits still, comatose, forever in his own mind. And<br />

the face he makes when he is hit in the balls <strong>—</strong> more than once!<br />

<strong>—</strong> is unmatched, all his facial muscles clenching like digits in a<br />

fist.<br />

Verhoeven is a consummate craftsman whose films couldn't<br />

have been made by anyone else, but he doesn't really have a<br />

distinct visual style, at least regarding compositions and<br />

movement and so on. His approach isn't showy, but the images<br />

are always coherent, as is the action, even when<br />

things get surreal or grotesque; the loving detail of<br />

the mutants evinces a bold humanism you don't find<br />

in many $100 million blockbusters. And, of course,<br />

Paul was the satirist par excellence of '90s<br />

Hollywood. Here, he eviscerates, with brutal care,<br />

capitalism (the craven villain, played slimily by Ronny<br />

Cox, who was similarly slimy in Robocop, charges<br />

exorbitant prices for air on Mars, the way America<br />

charges disturbingly high fees for basic necessities),<br />

imperialism, the police force, etc. He also butchers<br />

bodies. The somatic savagery <strong>—</strong> Arnold uses a man<br />

as a meat shield, as bullets batter the body and<br />

blood sprays from holes spurting all over his torso,<br />

for instance <strong>—</strong> is excellently excessive; it's<br />

Verhoeven's willingness to be so mean, his<br />

conviction obvious each time a bullet collides with<br />

flesh, that makes the whole thing so fun. He takes<br />

glee in it, thus, so do we. <strong>—</strong> GREG CWIK<br />




Seun Suzuki<br />

Seijun Suzuki made his name with a string of Nikkatsu-produced genre flicks <strong>—</strong> The Naked Woman and the Gun (1957), Voice Without a<br />

Shadow (1958), Man With a Shotgun (1961) <strong>—</strong> but is probably best known to contemporary audiences for his yakuza films. A relatively<br />

inhibited take on American gangster noirs quickly evolved into a kaleidoscopic assault on the form that made him both beloved and<br />

infamous, with what’s now his most acclaimed work <strong>—</strong> 1967's eclectic, satirical yakuza classic Branded to Kill <strong>—</strong> initially landing as a<br />

critical and commercial failure, and leading to Suzuki's dismissal by Nikkatsu, for making "movies that make no sense and no money,"<br />

according to the filmmaker. This then led Suzuki to successfully sue the production company, but the ordeal cost him a decade-long<br />

blacklisting.<br />

Though Suzuki’s freewheeling cinematic sensibilities can actually be traced all the way back to his debut film, 1956's Victory is Ours,<br />

the first genuine flashes of his trademark style appeared in the 1958 crime film Underworld Beauty. Not only was this the first of his<br />

films credited to Seijun Suzuki (as opposed to Seitaro Suzuki, his birth name), but it also featured an unorthodox visual creativity <strong>—</strong><br />

cleverly obscured nudity; deep, mysterious shadows; creepy mannequin set design <strong>—</strong> which was nevertheless noticeably restrained<br />

by Nikkatsu's expectations of commercial viability. Take Aim at the Police Van (1960) and Detective Bureau 23: Go to Hell, Bastards!<br />

(1963) can be similarly described. But then came Youth of the Beast, which marked a true turning point for the filmmaker.<br />

One of four Suzuki films released in 1963, Youth of the Beast saw the auteur truly embrace his playful pop artistry for the<br />

first time <strong>—</strong> even Suzuki himself called it his "first truly original film." The plot is essentially a spin on Kurosawa's<br />

1961 samurai film Yojimbo, wherein a wandering ronin, Kuwabatake Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune), infiltrates the<br />

organizations of two opposing crime bosses struggling for supremacy<br />

to bring peace to a small village. But unlike<br />



Kurosawa's classic, Suzuki's crime tale has no place for such<br />

noble aims. Joji "Jo" Mizuno (the famously chipmunk-cheeked Joe<br />

Shishido) is an ex-cop driven solely by revenge. Having been<br />

wrongfully convicted of embezzlement, the newly released Jo<br />

becomes singularly focused on avenging the murder of his loyal<br />

former partner, whose death was staged to look like a lover's<br />

suicide.<br />

Jo's pursuit of "justice" becomes a relentless, violent, and slyly<br />

comical odyssey through Kobe's criminal underworld. Although<br />

1966's Tokyo Drifter would mark Suzuki's first identifiably<br />

deconstructionist take on the genre, Youth of the Beast scans as<br />

similarly satirical. The film occupies a space between<br />

straightforward gangster film homage and Godardian<br />

pranksterism, amplifying genre tropes to near-absurd levels with<br />

increasingly<br />

convoluted<br />

violence, plot<br />

machinations,<br />

and set<br />

pieces <strong>—</strong> at one<br />

point, Jo disposes<br />

of his adversaries<br />

while hanging<br />

upside down from a chandelier <strong>—</strong> while occasionally pushing<br />

things into the realm of the avant-garde. For every blade<br />

violently shoved under a fingernail, there is a shot of radiant red<br />

flowers illuminating the otherwise black-and-white frames of the<br />

film's intro. And Suzuki's farcical tough-guy introduction for Jo <strong>—</strong><br />

he beats up young delinquents before heading to a club to drink<br />

and beat up some more people <strong>—</strong> feels like a purposeful<br />

escalation of Breathless' Bogart-obsessed main character, Michel<br />

(Jean-Paul Belmondo).<br />

Youth of the Beast’s gritty textures don't rival Tokyo Drifter's<br />

arresting production design. But Suzuki still provides his share of<br />

striking images, such as when Jo invades the office of crime<br />

boss Shinzuke Onodera (Kinzo Shin). The head honcho's office<br />

walls are illuminated by images of American and Japanese<br />

B-movie gangster melodramas <strong>—</strong> the kind of films that Suzuki<br />

was slowly but surely leaving behind. (Incidentally, Onodera, as<br />

well as his rival Tetsuo Nomoto (Akiji Kobayashi), are depicted as<br />

weaselly, bottom-line-obsessed businessmen, far removed from<br />

the honor codes often employed to romanticize Japanese<br />

organized crime.) This juxtaposition ultimately acknowledges the<br />

framework that the film <strong>—</strong> for all its clever subversions <strong>—</strong><br />

operates within, obscuring the visceral violence that ensues by<br />

calling attention to its artificiality.<br />

This unsentimental, stylized approach would prove influential on<br />

filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Park Chan-wook, John Woo,<br />

and Takashi Miike,<br />

whose genre efforts<br />

often echo Beast's<br />

elaborate brutality.<br />

Even Scorsese might<br />

have looked to<br />

Keiko's (Naomi<br />

Hoshi) agonizing<br />

junkie floor crawl for<br />

The Wolf of Wall<br />

Street's infamous<br />

Quaaludes scene.<br />

Suzuki's later, more<br />

surreal efforts<br />

overshadow the<br />

legacy of the first<br />

true Suzuki original,<br />

somewhat, and he<br />

remains tragically<br />

under-discussed as<br />

a talented dramatic<br />

filmmaker (1964's<br />

Gate of Flesh and<br />

1965's Story of a<br />

Prostitute rank<br />

amongst his best<br />

work). But it’s with<br />

Youth of the Beast<br />

that his anarchic<br />

vision truly snapped into focus, and at last converged with a<br />

searing poignancy, felt in its ending: after the antagonist finally<br />

dies a horrible, razor blade-related death, Jo succumbs to<br />

despair and has a vision of a grayscale graveyard, where<br />

flowers once again gleam with red-hot menace. <strong>—</strong> FRED<br />




It’s hard not to see the Dead Ringers miniseries as yet<br />

another domino tumbling on the remake assembly line<br />

that turns everything from The Parallax View to Fatal<br />

Attraction into half-hearted content, primed for<br />

couch-locked consumption. Credit where it's due,<br />

Cronenberg’s underrated 1988 thriller at least makes<br />

for an intriguing selection, given its restrained<br />

manner, disturbing gynecological sojourns, and the<br />

demanding dual performance of its lead-playing twin<br />

doctors stuck in a codependent spiral. Anyone<br />

looking to play it safe (though what Cronenberg<br />

remake really is?) could have chosen to adapt<br />

eXistenZ, whose twisty, mind-bending plot and<br />

science fiction trappings seem at least better suited for<br />

serialization than this icy, melodramatic chamber piece.<br />

That said, the assembled team here is pretty strong:<br />

there’s dual-lead Rachel Weisz, blending the composed<br />

vulnerability of Disobedience with the ravenous bite of The<br />

Favourite; the likes of Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and<br />

Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) directing; and it’s all run by<br />

playwright/screenwriter Alice Birch, who penned the phenomenal<br />

Florence Pugh breakout, Lady Macbeth, and whose impressive<br />

television credits include Normal People and Succession. It’s all this<br />

squandered potential that makes the predictably tepid end result <strong>—</strong> a<br />

parade of extraneous themes, characters, and plot lines, scattered across six<br />

disjointed episodes <strong>—</strong> such a letdown.<br />

This fumbling effort highlights the unavoidable catch-22 of the<br />

movie-to-miniseries pipeline: a straightforward remake would be considered<br />

a futile exercise in imitation, but the full-scale remodel (as embarked on<br />

by Birch) remains awkwardly chained to its source material, leaving its<br />

myriad ambitions out of arm's reach. The original narrative of<br />

Beverly and Elliot Mantle's co-dependent self-destruction still<br />

grounds the project, but there are now hours of filler to dilute<br />

Cronenberg’s concentrated dose. Long sequences with the<br />

twins' parents, their sociopathic angel investors,<br />

their artist-in-residence housekeeper, the<br />


magazine writer working on an expose <strong>—</strong> it’s a cascade of false<br />

starts and half-thoughts trailing off before they ever get<br />

anywhere interesting. This undercooked quality is most<br />

pronounced with the reorientated focus on the politics of<br />

reproductive health. This shift, defined by the Mantle twins’<br />

gender swap, might promise to be the series' greatest strength, a<br />

timely and clever inversion of some of the prickly, misogynistic<br />

undertones in the original brothers' psychology. But just like in<br />

the aforementioned threads, this too is presented in<br />

Twitter-bent one-liners and scattershot fragments that never<br />

have space to breathe.<br />

Accompanying the overstuffed scope of ideas is a similarly<br />

overstuffed stylization, presented in anamorphic widescreen to<br />

give ample room for the twins to share the frame. Where<br />

Cronenberg’s version avoided stressing its central gimmick, the<br />

miniseries embraces it with relish and abandon, collecting both<br />

Weiszs together in a shot as much as possible. Similarly absent<br />

is the restraint of the original’s visuals. Peter Suschitzky’s muted<br />

palette resembled a soap opera, lulling the viewer into an uneasy<br />

calm, only to blossom in spectacular moments like a bondage<br />

scene featuring rubber tubing and medical clamps shot in woozy<br />

blues, or the gloom of the operating theater pierced with the<br />

smoldering crimson of the Mantles’ surgical garb. Birch’s version<br />

nods at some of these ideas, but strikes a frustrating<br />

middle-ground of colorful, nicely framed banality that plays like<br />

microwaved leftovers. All this is goaded on by a snappy musical<br />

score and punctuated by an endless parade of tacky needle<br />

drops. If Cronenberg bemoaned the cost of featuring a single<br />

song in his film (“In The Still of the Night'' by The Five Satins), it’s<br />

tough to imagine what his reaction would be to this soundtrack,<br />

so stuffed with overused hits <strong>—</strong> “Sweet Dreams,” “Tainted Love,”<br />

and so forth <strong>—</strong> that it chugs along almost like a jukebox musical.<br />

There are some bright spots here and there. Weisz’s take on the<br />

twins may lack nuance <strong>—</strong> Jeremy Irons’ performance remains<br />

untouched <strong>—</strong> but it makes up for it in campy exuberance, which,<br />

accompanied by some devilishly funny writing and a strong<br />

supporting cast, helps keep things gliding along. Particular<br />

standouts include Jennifer Ehle’s razor-witted Rebecca Parker,<br />

the caustic investor the Mantles have to beg for funding for their<br />

birthing centers, and Ntare Guma Mbhaho Mwine as a writer<br />

digging into the Mantles, stealing every single scene he’s in with<br />

relaxed poise and finely tuned, simmering charm. Where the<br />

show really stumbles, however, is in building its emotional<br />

backbone. Weisz has no chemistry with Britne Oldford, who plays<br />

Beverly’s lover, an issue compounded by the fact that Beverely’s<br />

character has been restructured in such a way as to become an<br />

idealistic husk of what he once was. In the original, Beverly was<br />

the more empathetic of the two, but far less predictable,<br />

susceptible to addiction and psychological breakdown. Elliot was<br />

colder, crueler, and more playful, but defined by a calm<br />

demeanor and a rigid sense of control. Instead, Birch’s version<br />

sanctifies Beverly and transfers all flaws over to Elliot. Out of<br />

everything that frustrates in this Dead Ringers, its oversimplified,<br />

good twin/bad twin dichotomy is most destructive to the heart<br />

of the source material.<br />

By the time you’ve made it to the sixth and final episode, the<br />

incongruities in theme and tone and the sheer number of<br />

abandoned plot threads start to seem like insurmountable<br />

failings. The show races toward its ending with the sweaty<br />

energy of a series canceled halfway through, one desperately<br />

trying to cobble together a satisfying conclusion amidst its final<br />

throes. Following the trend set by every poorly thought-through<br />

deviation from the source material leading up to it thus far, Birch<br />

declines the original’s beautifully cutting closer in favor of a<br />

broader, tackier, and more predictable finale. The muddled<br />

nature of this desperate final bow stands in stark contrast to the<br />

quiet dignity of Cronenberg’s operatic ending, a move that seems<br />

to be at total odds with the warmer, more empathetic approach<br />

toward the Mantles that the series until this point exhibits. Maybe<br />

the most charitable reading here would be that the disjointed<br />

flow from one episode to the next suggests that each should be<br />

seen as improvisations on a theme <strong>—</strong> siblings, parents, class,<br />

motherhood <strong>—</strong> and yet, as poorly as these work as a whole, they<br />

seem even more wanting in isolation. The ultimate takeaway<br />

here is that, tempting as it may be, trying to xerox the dark<br />

alchemy of Cronenbergian narrative is certainly<br />

a fool’s errand. Cronenberg’s discordant themes, at once<br />

excessive and elegant, aren’t threaded together but instead<br />

violently fused; the final, imitative product that is this Dead<br />

Ringers mini-series is a fender-bender enervated by caution,<br />

whereas the real deal was an expressway collision, its potency<br />

crawling up your spine <strong>—</strong> glass, metal, and protruding flesh. <strong>—</strong><br />





Ari Aster<br />

Joaquin Phoenix’s first scene in Beau Is Afraid takes place in his<br />

therapist’s office, setting the story in motion while also<br />

presenting a roadmap of sorts for everything that follows.<br />

Phoenix plays the titular Beau, a forty-something-year-old virgin<br />

with truly unfortunate levels of male pattern baldness and a<br />

prominent spare tire (the weight swing between this and his<br />

performance in Joker, only a few years ago, has to be 75 lbs, at<br />

minimum). In the aforementioned scene, Beau and his doctor are<br />

grappling with the prospect of traveling out of town to visit his<br />

domineering mother; posing questions that only agitate Beau<br />

further (“do you ever wish that she was dead?”) from behind a<br />

Cheshire Cat grin, the doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson)<br />

sends Beau off with a prescription for a new anxiety medication,<br />

replete with terrifyingly commonplace side effects (“If you start<br />

to feel warm or have an elevated heart rate, that’s bad”). Given<br />

this framing, one could view everything that happens in this film<br />

thereafter as the result of an adverse reaction to Beau’s new pills,<br />

but that would be far too prosaic a read on director Ari Aster’s<br />

bugfuck odyssey. Instead, Beau Is Afraid aspires to do no<br />

less than dramatize an American Psychiatric Association<br />

textbook’s worth of phobias and stressors <strong>—</strong> large, small, and<br />

yet-to-be-classified. The film is something like the Terminator,<br />

only it’s in relentless pursuit of that elusive trigger that will send<br />

the viewer into a full-on panic attack.<br />

Living in an under-furnished, third-story apartment in the sort of<br />

urban hellscape only found in Fox News fever dreams, Beau steps<br />

over dead bodies lying in the road, outruns mentally ill vagrants,<br />

and absent-mindedly wanders past floor-to-ceiling vulgar graffiti<br />

and warnings about brown recluses in the building. And this is all<br />

to get back to an abode that looks like the kind of space single,<br />

middle-aged men rent out shortly before hanging themselves. It’s<br />

the type of place where residents are menaced by a nude serial<br />

killer (a news report helpfully clarifies that the suspect is<br />

circumcised), and the local citizenry proceed to congregate in<br />

zombie-like hordes in the middle of the street. And this is Beau’s<br />

safe space: the place he’s being guilted into leaving for a<br />

weekend visit with his emotional-terrorist, titan-of-industry<br />

mother, Mona (played by Patti Lupone in present-day scenes, and<br />

Zoe Lister-Jones in flashback).<br />



For much of the film’s masterful first hour, we watch Beau<br />

attempting to navigate cascading inconveniences that conspire<br />

to derail his trip. The water in his apartment has been shut off;<br />

an irate neighbor keeps sliding passive-aggressive notes under<br />

his door in the middle of the night, asking Beau to turn down the<br />

music when no music is even being played; a slept-through alarm<br />

clock makes Beau late for the airport. Then someone steals<br />

Beau’s house keys right out of the lock <strong>—</strong> after he scampered<br />

back inside for only a few seconds to grab his dental floss, a<br />

fitting character note <strong>—</strong> leaving even the man’s inner sanctum<br />

vulnerable. It seems reasonable, then, that Mona will be forgiving<br />

of him delaying his trip by a few hours so that he can call a<br />

locksmith. She is not. The film continues on like this, building<br />

indignity on top of indignity, reaching a crescendo when Beau<br />

receives horrifying news from home, in the least comforting way<br />

imaginable, shortly before being run into by an RV while running<br />

naked through the streets (his distended and severely swollen<br />

testicals occasionally jostling into the frame). And that’s when, as<br />

the expression goes, things start to get weird.<br />

Beau Is Afraid is the eagerly anticipated follow-up from Ari Aster<br />

(Hereditary, Midsommar), who, after only three feature films, has<br />

emerged as the most breathlessly hyped name in A24’s stable of<br />

in-house directors. Up until now, a genre filmmaker specializing<br />

in tightly-controlled, large-canvas squirm-fests, Aster abandons<br />

overt horror here (although there’s no shortage of shocking<br />

violence and unsettling moments) and doubles down on his pet<br />

theme of the lasting harm parents inflict upon their children.<br />

There’s something upsetting for Beau to fret about even in the<br />

most innocuous of places <strong>—</strong> for example, the cozy suburban<br />

home he’s taken to convalesce at by a way-too-chipper Nathan<br />

Lane and Amy Ryan. But, invariably, the film works its way back<br />

to the codependency and sexual dysfunction instilled in him by<br />

his mother at a young age. Aster’s previous films were legitimate<br />

hits, and Beau Is Afraid carries itself with the swagger of an artist<br />

comfortable burning through whatever capital they’ve amassed<br />

in service of chasing an undiluted vision. That extends to the<br />

film’s elephantine runtime (just a hair under 180 minutes) and<br />

comparatively large budget, but also to its disquieting framing of<br />

motherhood, sexuality, the human body, and the music of Mariah<br />

Carey. It’s an expansive, occasionally turgid film that seems<br />

designed to test an audience’s patience, particularly during a<br />

longish digression where Phoenix, on the run, stumbles upon a<br />

roving theater troupe that’s set up camp in the woods. It’s a<br />

confounding detour smack dab in the middle of the film, blurring<br />

the line between performer and audience, reality and metaphor,<br />

live-action and animation. To what end it serves remains unclear<br />

other than that it’s of a piece with the film’s Kaufman-esque pop<br />

surrealism and the director’s “who are you to say no to me?”<br />

mandate.<br />

Maddeningly inscrutable by design, Beau Is Afraid <strong>—</strong> with its<br />

nightmarish Freudian imagery, “better living through<br />

pharmaceuticals” thematizing, and nods to both Judaism and<br />

Kafka <strong>—</strong> is all but begging to be solved (Internet explainers and<br />

crowd-sourced Reddit threads are due any minute now).<br />

Interpreting what it all means may not actually be worth the<br />

squeeze, but that’s almost incidental when put up against the<br />

film’s surface-level pleasures. There’s the precision of the<br />

filmmaking, with its emphasis on vertical compositions <strong>—</strong> the<br />

film is playing on IMAX screens in select markets for good reason<br />

<strong>—</strong> and building risible gags entirely through production design,<br />

set dressing, and throwaway props (e.g., an early scene finds<br />

Beau microwaving a TV dinner that boasts a flavor profile<br />

combination of Irish and Hawaiian cuisine). For the sort of<br />

person who can roll with it, there's a queasy yet intoxicating<br />

discomfort to the way the film takes pliers and a blowtorch to the<br />

viewers’ last nerve, eliciting waves of shame and purposeful<br />

befuddlement from every new scenario Beau stumbles into. And<br />

then there are the heavily-stylized, outsized performances. On<br />

one end of the spectrum, you have Phoenix, his Beau so<br />

paralyzed by fear, humiliation, and conflicting instruction that he<br />

all but slides into catatonia. On the other end, there’s Lupone’s<br />

character: a sucking wound of self-justification, pettiness, and<br />

the desire to manipulate an adult son she still treats like a child,<br />

earning the actress honorary status in the Jewish Mothers Hall of<br />

Fame. The film’s ambitions and demonstrable craft aren’t<br />



redeeming in and of themselves, and certainly don’t absolve the<br />

film of its lumpiness, its narcissism, or some of its more juvenile<br />

tendencies, but the more off-putting qualities aren’t inherently<br />

disqualifying either. And there’s a bit of a perverse thrill in<br />

something this unaccommodating being unleashed on audiences<br />

probably expecting the latest iteration of “elevated horror.” In the<br />

end, Beau Is Afraid is something like a long therapy session: it’s<br />

expensive, self-indulgent, and should have probably remained<br />

private. But there’s also a morbid fascination in observing it, and,<br />

ultimately, the mother’s probably to blame. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Ari Aster; CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Nathan Lane, Amy<br />

Ryan, Parker Posey; DISTRIBUTOR: A24; IN THEATERS: April 21;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 59 min.<br />


Lee Cronin<br />

The latest installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Evil Dead Rise,<br />

opens with a sequence that will be instantly recognizable to<br />

longtime fans of the series. Under the opening credits, an unseen<br />

force propels itself, at breakneck speed, through a foggy forest,<br />

across clearings and creeks, hurtling itself toward an<br />

unsuspecting victim. It’s really a bit of cheeky misdirection: the<br />

ominous, quickly moving presence is a small drone being piloted<br />

by an obnoxious frat boy type, tormenting a young woman who’s<br />

just trying to read by the lake. This smartly undercuts the tension<br />

before things start to get grizzly, about five minutes hence, while<br />

at the same time putting its own spin on one of the more familiar<br />

visual tropes of these films. It’s also just a little bit clever <strong>—</strong> a<br />

quality that’s otherwise in short supply in a film that, while<br />

suitably gory and proficiently made, lacks any real sense of<br />

invention or personality.<br />

That woods-set prologue notwithstanding <strong>—</strong> the film eventually<br />

circles back to how we even ended up there and who these<br />

anonymous victims are, and in a decidedly perfunctory manner <strong>—</strong><br />

Evil Dead Rise differentiates itself from its predecessors by<br />

setting its deadite mayhem not in a cabin in the woods but rather<br />

in a dilapidated apartment complex in Los Angeles. It’s not quite<br />

putting Jason Voorhees in outer space, but for a franchise that<br />

leans so heavily on the isolation and vastness of the wilderness,<br />

moving the action to an urban center rife with<br />

modern amenities is an admirable upending of the formula. We’re<br />

introduced to touring guitar tech and absentee cool aunt, Beth<br />

(Lily Sullivan), who pops in to visit her older sister, tattoo artist<br />

Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland), and her three children on a dark and<br />

stormy evening. Beth has only just learned she’s pregnant, and,<br />

whether she’s willing to admit it or not, she’s looking to Ellie to tell<br />

her everything’s going to be okay. However, she finds in Ellie a<br />

woman at her wits’ end; she’s been abandoned by her husband<br />

and the father of her kids while frantically trying to find a new<br />

place for everyone to live as the building, which is falling down<br />

around them, has been scheduled for demolition in a few weeks.<br />

With Beth never being around to offer emotional support to Ellie,<br />

cracks have emerged in their relationship, which lends the visit a<br />

bit of an edge (Ellie even has the cruel habit of dismissing her<br />

little sister’s career by calling her a groupie).<br />

Speaking of cracks, a literal one opens up in the basement,<br />

triggered by an earthquake (it is Los Angeles, after all).<br />

Undaunted by the shaky foundation or the notion that venturing<br />

into unlit, subterranean chambers is how one-third of all horror<br />

films begin, Ellie’s eldest child and amateur DJ, Danny (Morgan<br />

Davies), climbs down into an abandoned bank vault where he<br />

finds a spooky yet familiar book (bound in human skin, penned in<br />

blood, featuring incantations and horrifying illustrations… you<br />

know the drill) and, even more germane to his interests, some old<br />

records. Against the wishes of younger sisters Bridget (Gabrielle<br />

Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher), Danny brings the book and the<br />

vinyl upstairs and plays the record on his turntable. Hoping he’s<br />

found an obscure beat he can sample, Danny instead is greeted<br />

by a hundred-year-old recording of a priest translating the “Book<br />

of the Dead,” and in the process unleashes an ancient, evil spirit<br />

into the apartment building, setting the stage for a long night of<br />

demonic possession and ultraviolence.<br />

Directed by Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin (The Hole in the Ground),<br />

Evil Dead Rise doesn’t so much resemble Sam Raimi’s seminal<br />

1981 film The Evil Dead or either of its two sequels as it does the<br />

dozens of disposable horror films produced under Raimi’s<br />

production shingle, Ghost House Pictures (which mostly churns<br />

out films in the 30 Days of Night, The Boogeyman, and The Grudge<br />

franchises). Gone is any sort of hand-tooled ingenuity or reckless<br />

disregard for the safety of the actors <strong>—</strong> the Raimi films, with<br />

their Three Stooges-inspired violence and a tendency to put star<br />



Bruce Campbell through the wringer without the benefit of a<br />

stuntman, often had more in common with the Jackass movies<br />

than your typical horror film <strong>—</strong> replaced with photo-realistic<br />

gore, CGI effects, and a cobalt and gunmetal gray color palette. In<br />

other words, the film is slick-looking and hits its marks, and<br />

when a possessed character begins masticating a wine glass,<br />

shards of glass poking through their esophagus as they swallow,<br />

it’s genuinely disgusting. As it is when another character has a<br />

cheese grater raked across their calf, and yet again when<br />

someone has one of their eyeballs sucked out of their skull. Is it<br />

scary, though? Viewers' mileage will vary, but the more important<br />

question is whether any of this is especially fun. The answer,<br />

regrettably, is no.<br />

Evil Dead Rise is under no obligation to match the punch-drunk<br />

energy of the Raimi films <strong>—</strong> honestly, good luck even trying <strong>—</strong> but<br />

its absence does underscore just how generic and kind of joyless<br />

this all is. It’s yet another well-lit tour of an abattoir. The sisterly<br />

angst and anxiety over Beth becoming a mother are only<br />

introduced to give assorted possessed characters something to<br />

taunt the living over <strong>—</strong> although the latter does allow the film to<br />

replicate the Ripley and Newt dynamic with Beth and Kassie,<br />

complete with lifting chunks of James Horner’s iconic Aliens<br />

score for its action finale. Nor is there much inspiration in the<br />

high-rise setting: the earthquake knocks out the power and cell<br />

reception, and takes out the elevator and stairs so that the<br />

characters might as well be stranded in the middle of the woods<br />

for all that the change of venue matters (you’d think some of the<br />

tenants on the lower floors might try and investigate all the<br />

shotgun blasts). Instead, Evil Dead Rise mostly gets its kicks by<br />

sneaking Easter Eggs into the film, some of which are more<br />

thoughtful (a gardener’s truck in the parking garage is attributed<br />

to Dr. Fonda’s Tree Surgeon, a simultaneous nod to the<br />

prominence of chainsaws in the franchise, malicious trees, and<br />

even the actress Bridget Fonda who cameos in 1993’s Army of<br />

Darkness) than others (Sullivan randomly repeating one of<br />

Campbell’s catchphrases by telling a deadite “come get some”<br />

before blasting it with a shotgun).<br />

If there’s a saving grace to the film, it’s Sutherland’s performance.<br />

An Australian performer, like nearly everyone else in the cast<br />

(watching all the actors fighting a losing battle with their<br />

American accents is often more diverting than the story), the<br />

actress best known for TV’s Vikings does some of the best<br />

physical acting in recent memory. A tall, spindly beauty in a red<br />

Farrah Fawcett blowout, the actress <strong>—</strong> who’s the first to be taken<br />

by the evil spirit and is ostensibly the primary antagonist <strong>—</strong><br />

spends the film alternating between ramrod rigidity and<br />

contorting her body in inhuman angles, at all times wearing a<br />

deranged perma-rictus (the actress spends much of the film<br />

staring into a peephole lens, the fisheye effect only further<br />

distorting her face). In a film where everyone and everything is<br />

so dreadfully grim, Sutherland, finding a middle ground between<br />

Mommie Dearest and Joker, comes the closest to capturing the<br />

anarchic spirit of the films in whose footsteps it follows. Why so<br />

serious, indeed? <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Lee Cronin; CAST: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland,<br />

Morgan Davies; DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros. Pictures; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />




Laura Citarella<br />

“Trenque Lauquen, Argentinean director Laura Citarella’s third<br />

feature, shares with that film not just its production outfit El<br />

Pampero Cine, but also two of the film’s leads, Laura Paredes<br />

and Elisa Carricajo. (Llinás also has a producer credit.) Granted,<br />

four hours is a ways off from fourteen, and instead of Llinás’<br />

intentionally incomplete stories, Trenque Lauquen comprises<br />

elliptical fragments which do, finally, offer some semblance of<br />

unity. But it is characteristic of Citarella’s approach that many<br />

of the film’s chapters are told from the perspectives of different<br />

characters and vary wildly in tone. ” <strong>—</strong> LAWRENCE GARCIA<br />

[Published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s NYFF 2022 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Laura Citarella; CAST: Laura Paredes, Ezequiel<br />

Pierri, Rafael Spregelburd; DISTRIBUTOR: The Cinema Guild; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 4 hr. 20 min.<br />


Guy Ritchie<br />

Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant notably marks the first feature that<br />

has included the eponymous filmmaker’s name in the title itself,<br />

a rather curious development as the film is the least Guy<br />

Ritchie-esque movie in his entire filmography. Indeed, the final<br />

product plays more like the director’s attempt at aping the style<br />

of Peter Berg, a slab of right-wing militaristic propaganda that<br />

manages the miracle of making Lone Survivor look subtle in<br />

comparison. Perhaps an even more stunning discovery is that<br />

The Covenant is entirely a work of fiction, its far-flung story of<br />

the brotherhood’s bonds forged in the hells of combat so<br />

relentlessly cliched that it seemed all but a lock for<br />

based-on-a-true-story status. That makes the script, courtesy of<br />

Ritchie and co-writers Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson, nearly<br />

impossible to forgive in both its mind-numbing predictability and<br />

<strong>—</strong> to be quite frank <strong>—</strong> outright stupidity.<br />

Jake Gyllenhaal, in pure paycheck mode, stars as John Kinley, a<br />

Sergeant Major of the American Army who, in the year 2018, is<br />

stationed in Afghanistan, where he and the various members of<br />

his troop are hunting down Taliban-deployed IEDs. The various<br />

soldiers under Kinley’s command are introduced with on-screen<br />

text, and in such quick succession that it is all but impossible to<br />

make heads-or-tails of who is who. Not that Ritchie is remotely<br />

interested in these men, as most aren’t even afforded a single<br />

character trait <strong>—</strong> although, in fairness, one of them does like to<br />

eat and talk about food. Entering this tight-knit group is Ahmed<br />

(Dar Salim), a no-nonsense Afghani interpreter with whom Kinley<br />

forms an eventual bond because they are both stubborn and,<br />

damn it, they have to respect that in one another. But a raid on<br />

an IED manufacturing plant soon leaves the entire troop dead,<br />

save for Kinley and Ahmed, who must travel by foot over<br />

treacherous terrain to reach base as they are relentlessly hunted<br />

by the Taliban.<br />

It’s at the halfway point in the film that Kinley becomes injured to<br />

the point of catatonia, with Ahmed dragging <strong>—</strong> and, with the<br />

eventual aid of a wagon, wheeling <strong>—</strong> Kinley’s lifeless body over 50<br />

miles to safety, an impossible feat that the film devotes less than<br />

fifteen minutes to detailing, opting for a series of montages (set<br />

to a bombastic and ultimately oppressive score courtesy of<br />

Christopher Benstead) that robs the movie of anything<br />

resembling tension while also completely neutering Ahmed’s<br />

Herculean task. Cut ahead seven weeks, and Kinley discovers<br />

from the safety of his home in California that Ahmed is #1 Most<br />

Wanted on the Taliban’s kill list, a fact that has forced the<br />

interpreter, along with his wife and newborn baby, into hiding.<br />

The remainder of The Covenant focuses on Kinley’s attempts to<br />

locate Ahmed and his family and secure their safe passage to<br />

America, with Sergeant Major ultimately traveling to Afghanistan<br />

once more in the name of brotherhood, because, of course.<br />

The film’s first hour is certainly no great shakes, but it feels like a<br />

downright masterpiece in comparison to the dire second half,<br />

which mostly consists of Gyllenhaal delivering a lot of<br />

long-winded monologues about the importance of paying back<br />

debts while doing his best to look as tough as possible, which<br />

amounts to a dedicated monotone delivery and a catalog of<br />

dead-eyed stares. Much like Ritchie’s last feature,<br />

Mission:Impossible-wannabe Operation Fortune, The Covenant is<br />

completely devoid of any of the stylistic tics that once marked<br />

the director’s work. Some might view this as a sign of<br />

maturation, but such an argument is DOA when the alternative is<br />

just some shaky cam and a palette of browns and grays that<br />



have been bleached and color-corrected within an inch of their<br />

life. Oh wait, Ritchie does this one thing where the camera slowly<br />

zooms in on someone when they are speaking, then it slowly <strong>—</strong> or<br />

sometimes even quickly <strong>—</strong> zooms out again within the same<br />

shot. Spielberg, take notes. Jokes aside, the director utilizes this<br />

move to the point of unintentional comedy, repeated ad nauseam<br />

across the film’s runtime.<br />

Faring no better is Gyllenhaal, who delivers what might be the<br />

worst performance of his career, an approximation of machismo<br />

that feels forced by half. Salim at least brings some much-need<br />

gravitas to a sorely under-written role, but there is no depth to be<br />

found in the characterization, simply archetypes that exist in<br />

service of some good old-fashioned, “America, fuck yeah!” But<br />

wait, maybe there is actually more to this movie. After all,<br />

on-screen text at the film’s end states that Afghani interpreters<br />

who were abandoned upon the U.S.’s withdrawal from the country<br />

in 2021 are still being hunted by members of the Taliban, who see<br />

them as traitors. Perhaps Ritchie is attempting to shed light upon<br />

a horrifying consequence of American imperialism and the<br />

military-industrial complex, using and disposing of those<br />

individuals whose lives the U.S. was supposedly there to protect.<br />

Scratch that: the end credits also include lots of photos of<br />

nameless <strong>—</strong> and in most cases, faceless <strong>—</strong> American soldiers<br />

posing with who we are to assume are Afghani interpreters.<br />

There are even a few smiles here and there. That this all scans<br />

just as profoundly hollow and borderline insulting as everything<br />

else that preceded it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.<br />

Indeed, there is nary one to be found in this particular Covenant,<br />

Guy Ritchie’s or otherwise. <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie; CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim,<br />

Alexander Ludwig, Antony Starr; DISTRIBUTOR: United Artists; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 3 min.<br />


Stephen Williams<br />

In July 2020, The New York Times published an article by<br />

composer and music composition professor Marcos Balter that<br />

criticized the notion of calling Joseph Bologne “Black Mozart.” A<br />

versatile genius and all-time classical music great in his own<br />

right, Bologne could do better than be reduced in comparison to<br />

an “arbitrary white standard.” Director Stephen Williams’ latest<br />

outing, Chevalier, opens with a concert scene written to<br />

essentially argue that very thing. Bologne, embodied dutifully by<br />

Kelvin Harrison Jr., saunters onstage after Mozart concludes a<br />

song, asking to join him in a duet. He promptly steals the show,<br />

to the crowd’s amazement and Mozart’s consternation. As biopics<br />

go, Chevalier isn’t particularly revolutionary stuff, but there’s a<br />

sincerity in its desire to function as a character study and a<br />

celebration that pushes it past flatly generic territory.<br />

Bologne is the son of a wealthy, white French planter and an<br />

enslaved Black woman. His father dumps him in an academy at a<br />

young age, demanding his son pursue excellence while<br />

abandoning him and the disgrace that he represented. By the<br />

time Harrison Jr. steps into Bologne’s shoes, he’s already a<br />

burgeoning virtuoso and friend of Marie Antoinette (Lucy<br />

Boynton), his sophistication a shield and his arrogance<br />

notorious. When he sets his sights on the vacant conductor<br />

position at the Paris Opera, he taps Marie-Josephine de<br />

Montalembert (Samara Weaving) to sing in the lead role.<br />

Meanwhile, revolution is brewing in France, and Bologne learns<br />

that, while his gifts may elevate him, they aren’t enough to earn<br />

him equal treatment.<br />

Chevalier is fittingly operatic in style, its Paris setting elaborately<br />

curated, the exteriors sun-drenched, interiors candlelit. The<br />

soundtrack kicks in on cue, and the penchant for rotational slow<br />

pans creates an atmosphere that, while never feeling prestige,<br />

has an occasional woozy elegance. And everyone seems to be<br />

having fun in their roles, the period characters always<br />

immaculately dressed, trading barbs Bridgerton-style. But at the<br />

end of the day, Chevalier really is a star vehicle. Bologne is the<br />

only character the script cares to fully realize, and Harrison Jr.<br />

reliably commands in the role. Whether Bologne is poised,<br />

pensive, or pained, Harrison Jr. is diligent in his performance, his<br />



motions deliberate, the range in his voice a weapon. It’s a<br />

tightrope act that could almost be confused for clunky, with how<br />

overt the performative intent can feel, yet it works, both because<br />

Harrison Jr. can be charismatic as hell and because his<br />

approach rings true to this title character: a talented man<br />

embroiled in internal scrutiny in an effort to exist in a world that<br />

reviles him. Bologne is a difficult genius, blessed to be singular,<br />

cursed to be solitary.<br />

Throughout all of this, the specter of the French Revolution<br />

hovers. Characters remark that France is changing <strong>—</strong> proles are<br />

talking about democracy, women are talking about equality,<br />

Black Parisians are publicly visible. Chevalier ties Bologne’s<br />

struggles and ultimate self-actualization with the Revolution’s<br />

radical, liberating promise. It’s certainly not the strongest<br />

subtextual incorporation, perhaps because these threads don’t<br />

significantly connect until it’s time for his climactic middle finger<br />

to the established order that wronged him. Because of this, the<br />

ending reeks of Hollywood-ified great man theory veneration, the<br />

sort that takes viewers out of the film and reminds them that<br />

they’re watching a par-for-the-course, crowd-pleasing biopic.<br />

Then the credits roll, and we learn that once Napoleon took<br />

power, most of Bologne’s works and records were turned to ash.<br />

That’s when Chevalier’s raison d’être becomes clear: crafting a<br />

reliably rousing tale about a long-forgotten figure deserving of a<br />

myth to enshrine his legend. <strong>—</strong> TRAVIS DESHONG<br />

DIRECTOR: Stephen Williams; CAST: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Samara<br />

Weaving, Lucy Boynton; DISTRIBUTOR: Searchlight Pictures; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 47 min.<br />


Dexter Fletcher<br />

Dexter Fletcher’s Ghosted is a high-concept romantic action<br />

comedy with movie stars and a decent budget that, were this<br />

2005, would presumably have the potential to be both a hit and a<br />

tabloid item, in the vein of something similar to Mr. and Mrs.<br />

Smith (minus the whole meta matrimony stuff, of course). Now,<br />

these movies still get made despite social media claims to the<br />

contrary, but they’re nearly always relegated to streaming and,<br />

just as often, complete garbage. Fletcher’s film, then, isn’t really a<br />

throwback to the summer movies of the 2000s so much as Apple<br />

TV+’s foray into an emergent genre best described as “Netflix<br />

drivel.”<br />

Reuniting two of the stars of Netflix and the Russo brothers’ The<br />

Gray Man, Ghosted sets up a contentious meet-cute between Cole<br />

(Chris Evans) and Sadie (Ana De Armas), quaintly orchestrated in<br />

the farmer’s market where Cole sells his family’s wares. The pair<br />

spend a whole day together, culminating in a sex scene that<br />

reminds why comparing a film to music videos used to be<br />

pejorative. But afterward, Sadie vanishes, leaving all of Cole’s<br />

many text messages unread. As Cole’s hip younger sister explains<br />

<strong>—</strong> for audiences unacquainted with the modern parlance of the<br />

film’s title <strong>—</strong> she has ghosted him. Her reasons are made clear<br />

once Cole stalks her to London and is promptly kidnapped by<br />

supervillains: Sadie is an über-competent CIA assassin. She<br />

saves her one-night stand from his demise, and Cole is<br />

subsequently dragged into a half-baked bit of international<br />

espionage.<br />


Rebecca Zlotowski<br />

“Other People’s Children is told entirely without the expected, more dramatic (louder) moments. Music cues rise or cut in earlier<br />

than expected, a whole scene can fade to black, or a conversation won’t be audible until it’s in the aftermath of conflict. This<br />

strategy gives the characters privacy, and lends more weight to the subtleties of performing reflection rather than action.” <strong>—</strong><br />

SARAH WILLIAMS [Published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Sundance 2023 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Rebecca Zlotowski; CAST: Virginie Efira, Roschdy Zem, Chiara Mastroianni; DISTRIBUTOR: Music Box Films; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 44 min.<br />



Theoretically, this isn’t an awful setup. After all, horny men falling<br />

into spy hijinks is a Hitchcock staple. Even the undesirability of<br />

the two leads shouldn’t be much of a problem: yes, Cole behaves<br />

like a needy, desperate creep and Sadie kills dozens of men<br />

without a second thought, but a good rom-com can make easy<br />

work of overlooking the most tragic character flaws. The magic<br />

of the genre is often in how sexual tension and charm overcome<br />

the irrationality of a potential relationship and its circumstances.<br />

Evidently, the filmmaker and his leads are simply not up to that<br />

task. Fletcher directs with a listlessness befitting<br />

cinematographer Salvatore Totino’s flat images, composing his<br />

shots without creativity or even seemingly any attempt at style.<br />

Evans and De Armas, in return, meet the director and the<br />

material at that level <strong>—</strong> these are objectively sexy people who<br />

have proven charming in the past, but it’s impossible to find<br />

chemistry in their sleepy performances. Evans’ work here, which<br />

consists of half-assed charming smiles and tossed-off quips,<br />

makes the case that if Marvel hasn’t outright destroyed cinema, it<br />

has at least drained the actor of his remaining personality and<br />

energy. De Armas, meanwhile, never seems comfortable in her<br />

role, even as she plays her third spy character in the past three<br />

years. She’s as lackluster with the film’s dialogue as she is with<br />

its action scenes, a far, far cry from her movie-stealing<br />

performance in No Time to Die. And were it not for the film’s third<br />

parties loudly and constantly pointing it out, the sexual tension<br />

supposedly bubbling beneath their bickering would go completely<br />

unnoticed.<br />

On the other hand, half of the time Ghosted doesn’t even seem<br />

interested in the rom or com of the romantic comedy it’s failing<br />

to sell, and instead gets too wrapped up in its lame spy thriller<br />

MacGuffin hunt. In fact, there’s far more action in the film than<br />

there is sex or kissing, and it’s all somehow even less exciting<br />

than the romance, as many of these setpieces are just blurs of<br />

CGI and stunt doubles set to a series of needle drops<br />

indistinguishable from the playlist at a middle school dance. One<br />

extended car chase sequence is set to “My Sharona,” while, for<br />

some reason, the climactic shootout makes use of the egregious<br />

“Uptown Funk.” But the worst offender is a brawl on an airplane<br />

set to Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” Interesting, because<br />

Pitchfork once reviewed a Jet album with nothing except a video<br />

of a chimp pissing in its own mouth. Ghosted inspires roughly the<br />

same enthusiasm. <strong>—</strong> CHRIS MELLO<br />

DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher; CAST: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas,<br />

Adrien Brody, Mike Moh; DISTRIBUTOR: Apple TV+; STREAMING:<br />

April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 56 min.<br />

PLAN 75<br />

Chie Hayakawa<br />

As its title would have it, Plan 75 has a broad purview over the<br />

implementation and implications of its alternate, near-future. In<br />

this future, set in Japan, citizens 75 years and above are not only<br />

permitted, but actively encouraged to opt for euthenasia as a<br />



way of alleviating the nation’s aging problem. The state-funded<br />

euthanasia program, curtly titled “Plan 75,” is neat, sumptuous,<br />

and deeply professional: for the price of free, and even with a<br />

thousand US dollars as monetary incentive, participants enjoy a<br />

few tele-counseling sessions (capped at fifteen minutes each), a<br />

couple of warm “deluxe” meals, and, on D-Day itself, the dignity of<br />

performing one last service to their country by donning a small<br />

gas mask at one of the designated centers and slipping slowly<br />

into quiet, untroubled sleep. But despite its sociological<br />

dimensions, Chie Hayawaka’s debut is a deeply personal study of<br />

those affected by the program, whether as provider, patient, or<br />

loved one. Plan 75 marks its relevance with a masterful and<br />

well-calibrated narrative of the individuals who live and persist<br />

within, and often despite, the workings of dystopia.<br />

Belying the courtesy of many a consult between management<br />

and prospective candidates is a clinical valuation of life and<br />

purpose. The bulk of applicants who sign themselves up for<br />

euthanasia are retired, live alone, and do not have or see their<br />

children much, and so are discharged by and large from purpose.<br />

This statistic makes up the starting point of Plan 75, but it does<br />

not consign the film itself to clinicality. If anything, the stoic,<br />

weathered faces of the elderly serve as ciphers for… it’s anyone’s<br />

guess <strong>—</strong> distress, resignation, humiliation, and perhaps a<br />

smattering of pride may color their cheeks as they make the final<br />

arrangements, either in solitude or with friends. Michi (Chieko<br />

Baisho), a septuagenarian recently laid off from her job as a hotel<br />

cleaner, contemplates doing so only after her landlord evicts her<br />

and she cannot find alternate accommodation. Hiromo (Hayato<br />

Isomura), a young Plan 75 bureaucrat, encounters his estranged<br />

uncle filing an application to die. Their pathways barely intersect,<br />

but underscoring them both is a pathos that shirks histrionics for<br />

quiet honesty.<br />

This honesty is further bolstered by Hayakawa’s decision not to<br />

mount an overly theoretical examination of Plan 75’s macabre<br />

cultural consensus. Such an examination could work elsewhere,<br />

perhaps, but implanting it here would likely risk caricaturing the<br />

motivations and lived experiences of its characters. Instead, the<br />

film shores up their humanity against the detached gaze of<br />

social engineering stretched to its utilitarian conclusion, even<br />

depicting the travails of Maria (Stefanie Arianne), a Filipino<br />

caretaker who signs up to dispose the bodies and possessions of<br />

the dead as a means to support herself and her ailing young<br />

daughter. Amidst these otherwise unformed portraits of a moral<br />

epidemic come two sobering realizations: that collective<br />

loneliness easily cascades into conformity, and that this<br />

conformity is closer to home than expected. Inspired in part by<br />

the real-life massacre of nineteen care-home residents in 20<strong>16</strong><br />

and the comments made by Yūsuke Narita <strong>—</strong> an economist and<br />

Yale University professor <strong>—</strong> on the prospect of mass suicide, Plan<br />

75 may proffer too few satisfying resolutions for some and too<br />

casual a fictionalization of contemporary demographic<br />

projections for others, but its humanist renderings of an<br />

otherwise apathetic world are accomplished and deeply moving.<br />

<strong>—</strong> MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Chie Hayakawa; CAST: Chieko Baishô, Hayato<br />

Isomura, Stefanie Arianne; DISTRIBUTOR: KimStim; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 52 min.<br />

CARMEN<br />

Benjamin Millepied<br />

A beguiling amalgam of classic opera sensibility, modern dance<br />

performance, and Badlands-esque, lovers-on-the-run romantic<br />

tragedy, Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen is a deeply idiosyncratic<br />

and electrifying film that nonetheless struggles to locate a<br />

governing artistic cogency. Very loosely inspired by Georges<br />

Bizet’s seminal opera, Millepied’s film takes more spiritual than<br />

material inspiration from that work, recalculating its narrative to<br />

befit our present age. In an intoxicating opening sequence, a<br />

woman dances on an empty stage set in the middle of a barren<br />

and dusty Mexican desert. A car penetrates the scene, two<br />

gun-toting men hopping out to demand the whereabouts of a<br />

she. The woman defiantly finishes her dance, and is promptly<br />

shot in the head. Nearby, Carmen (Melissa Barrera) hears the<br />

gunshots, understands her mother is dead, and continues on her<br />

trek to and across the U.S. border. Meanwhile, Aidan (Paul<br />

Mescal), a marine who seems to be struggling to adjust to<br />

non-deployment, heads out into the dark to commence his first<br />

evening of volunteer border patrol duty. When a gung-ho buddy<br />

reveals his motivations to be purely homicidal, Aidan intervenes,<br />

saving Carmen’s life and tethering the two as marked fugitives.<br />

And so, off they go, headed to Los Angeles, where Carmen hopes<br />

to find freedom and a connection to her past.<br />



impressive technical work at minimum, and suggests Millepied<br />

understands how to use the visual medium to both enhance and<br />

coalesce with the art of dance. As a whole, however, coherence is<br />

somewhat wanting. Take one of the film’s final such numbers,<br />

which finds Aidan in an underground, bare-knuckle brawl in a<br />

desperate bid to earn money. Britell’s score here moves into<br />

decidedly more propulsive territory, with Aidan engaging in<br />

bloody, brutal melee and a circle of observers dancing in a kind<br />

of modified krump style, all while The D.O.C. (as the evening’s de<br />

facto emcee) gravelly raps, “Beat his ass, get him / Kill his ass, kill<br />

him.” It’s a thrilling sequence in its own right, but one that feels<br />

somewhat inorganic, not in any kind of artistic or aesthetic<br />

conversation with the film’s earlier dance numbers. Still, modern<br />

cinema would be a better place were more directors to take risks<br />

the way Millepied does <strong>—</strong> though an even bolder film would have<br />

dispensed with dialogue entirely <strong>—</strong> and the director ends his film<br />

with its most moving moment yet. Mescal at last joins Barrera in<br />

dance, his limitations conjuring the profound, flawed humanity at<br />

the root of Carmen, earning its tragedy and signing the film off in<br />

an absolute place of grace. <strong>—</strong> LUKE GORHAM<br />

DIRECTOR: Benjamin Millepied; CAST: Melissa Barrera, Paul<br />

Mescal, Elsa Pataky, Rossy de Palma; DISTRIBUTOR: Sony<br />

Pictures Classics; IN THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 56 min.<br />


Joanna Pimenta & Adirley Queirós<br />

“The social and political environment Queirós and Pimenta are<br />

depicting certainly demands this wide-ranging<br />

experimentation. Indeed, I have never seen a film quite like Dry<br />

Ground Burning. At the same time, it often feels like multiple<br />

films in competition, different filmic approaches stitched<br />

together and, to some extent, rejecting the graft. This refusal<br />

to form a whole, the inability to ‘get the picture as one would in<br />

a more expository documentary, is absolutely endemic to Dry<br />

Ground Burning and its fundamental project. This means that,<br />

to an extent, usual criteria don’t apply here.” <strong>—</strong> MICHAEL<br />

SICINSKI [Published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s TIFF 2022 coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Joana Pimenta & Adirley Queirós; CAST: <strong>—</strong>;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Grasshopper Film; IN THEATERS: April 14;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 33 min.<br />


Julius Avery<br />

Director Julius Avery’s The Pope’s Exorcist announces its<br />

particular tenor right from the opening scene, as Father Gabriele<br />

Amorth (Russell Crowe) arrives by moped to the site of a possible<br />

demonic possession, his black robe billowing in the breeze, and<br />

ends with the brutal shooting of a pig, its blood and brains<br />

splattered across the faces of the unfortunate witnesses.<br />

Marketing material for The Pope’s Exorcist have made the movie<br />

look deadly serious, a slight sheen of prestige to be found in the<br />

presence of Academy Award-winner Crowe. Yet the final product<br />

is anything but, a tale of dastardly demonic derring-do with<br />

tongue planted firmly in cheek. That this is “based on true<br />

events” is par for the course for these types of films, but Father<br />

Gabriele Amorth was indeed a real person, and the official<br />

exorcist of the Diocese of Rome from 1986 until his retirement in<br />

2000. The Pope’s Exorcist is even adapted from two separate<br />

memoirs detailing Amorth’s experiences in the demonic<br />



possession game, and one has to wonder how he would react to a<br />

movie that features him repeatedly taking swigs from a flask and<br />

washing his sweaty pits with holy water <strong>—</strong> pious as he is, he does<br />

at least say a Hail Mary before that last transgression. So yes, this<br />

priest is a bit of a rapscallion, bellowing “Cuckoo!” while walking<br />

around Vatican City and chasing after large groups of nuns, all in<br />

the name of a laugh. But there’s nothing funny about evil, and<br />

Amorth is appalled when a new group of senior advisors within<br />

the Church try to tell him how to do his job. The heartless<br />

bureaucrats are slashing jobs while refuting the existence of evil,<br />

a curious detail to include in a film set in 1987, although one<br />

would be hard-pressed to determine the exact era, so<br />

unconcerned is the end product in such trifling details. (But hey,<br />

The Pope’s Exorcist is woke to the evils of corporate capitalism!)<br />

The Pope himself (Franco Nero), however, is on Amorth’s side, and<br />

there are certainly worse people to have in your corner.<br />

Meanwhile, in an abbey in the countryside of Spain, an American<br />

family consisting of mom Julie (Alex Essoe) and kids Amy (Laurel<br />

Marsden) and Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) have arrived to<br />

commence construction on a new home and start a new life after<br />

the car crash death of their beloved patriarch a year earlier.<br />

Henry was present for the event, and was so traumatized by what<br />

he saw that he hasn’t spoken a word since; this tracks when the<br />

film abruptly flashes back to that fateful night for a single shot<br />

from Henry’s POV that consists of the father with a piece of rebar<br />

impaled through his skull. Again, nice touch. Turns out, this abbey<br />

has a storied history of evil, and it isn’t long before the<br />

construction crew has inadvertently awakened a long-dormant<br />

demonic entity that immediately possesses the young and<br />

emotionally prone Henry. Cut to the young boy honking boobs and<br />

smashing heads though porcelain sinks, all while repeating the<br />

word “fuck” more times than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. (Bonus<br />

points for a film concerning exorcisms that is actually rated-R<br />

and leans heavily into that lane.) Amorth is soon called to the<br />

manor, and discovers that this possession may be the real deal,<br />

especially after the demon discusses long-buried secrets and<br />

sins from the Father’s past. He teams up with a local priest by the<br />

name of Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto), because dude could use the<br />

help, especially when it’s discovered that somehowboth this<br />

demon and the property are linked to the Church itself, ultimately<br />

exposing its attempt to cover-up its role in the Spanish<br />

Inquisition(!). No wonder Amorth is so sweaty.<br />

The degree to which The Pope’s Exorcist attempts to be both<br />

reverent and critical of the Catholic Church is as compellingly<br />

ridiculous as everything else on display, a story of how individual<br />

goodness can triumph over systemic rot. But lest you think the<br />

movie sounds more serious or profound than it actually is, Avery<br />

is not the least bit interested in anything resembling depth or<br />

authenticity, and thank God for that. Every facet of the<br />

production is consistent in its intentional key of borderline camp,<br />

from Crowe’s voracious scenery-chewing to the cheap-looking<br />

production design to the SyFy Channel-level visual effects.<br />

There’s simply no denying the certain charm of watching an<br />

obvious rubber doll with the voice of Ralph Ineson refer to a<br />

priest as a “panty sniffer.” And then there’s the film’s climactic<br />

showdown, which sees Father Esquibel throw a cross to Amorth<br />

but with the holy relic meant to mimic a gun. Avery somehow<br />

even manages to sneak some gratuitous female nudity into the<br />

proceedings, because of course he does, and also leaves the<br />

door open for 199 <strong>—</strong> yes, 199! <strong>—</strong> possible sequels, with Amorth<br />

commenting that a replacement will be needed somewhere down<br />

the road. The Pope’s Exorcist is exactly what this stale subgenre<br />

needed <strong>—</strong> a blast of gory, goofy fun in a desert of dire solemnity.<br />

Personally, this critic will take ten more entries minimum, so long<br />

as they include even more scenes of the Pope projectilevomiting<br />

blood into people’s faces. Thank God, thank the devil,<br />

thank the demons <strong>—</strong> this movie is good. <strong>—</strong> STEVEN WARNER<br />

DIRECTOR: Julius Avery; CAST: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto,<br />

Alex Essoe, Franco Nero; DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 14; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 43 min.<br />


Ray Romano<br />

After Jerry Seinfeld and his "What's the deal?" color commentary<br />

on the silliness of the quotidian struck gold in Seinfeld,<br />

comedians started to habitually appear in comedies and sitcoms,<br />

popping up like dandelions, most of it harmless. But rarely was<br />

anyone or anything as incisively irreverent or eccentric or<br />

intelligent as what Seinfeld and Larry David did. Everybody Loves<br />

Raymond, starring Ray Romano as a version of himself but in<br />

Long Island instead of Queens, is one of these unremarkable<br />

shows that, nonetheless, makes for pleasurable background<br />

viewing, a pleasant concatenation of a decade’s<br />



worth of episodes seeping into each other, auto-playing, the<br />

show's regularities <strong>—</strong> Ray screwing up; his mother barging in<br />

bellowing purported wisdom; his Lurch of a brother maundering<br />

through the door, filling the frame, and mumbling morosely; the<br />

perplexed look of Ray's wife Debra's face as she witnesses the<br />

wake of Ray's idiocy, and the way her voice raises slightly with a<br />

loving frustration, jokes eliciting canned laughter and<br />

punctuating the drone of familiar voices enmeshed into genial<br />

vagueness <strong>—</strong> like tiny oscillations mingling in a white noise<br />

machine outside your therapist's office door.<br />

Raymond keeps to the tradition of classic family dysfunction like<br />

The Honeymooners and All in the Family, minus the indelible<br />

characters and sharp insight on a plethora of cultural and human<br />

complexities; its humor is pedestrian and broad, yet there's also<br />

nothing to outright dislike. It's simply not daring enough.<br />

Following in those footsteps, Somewhere in Queens, which<br />

Romano co-wrote, directed, and in which he stars, is likewise<br />

wholly unremarkable, a true case of writing what you know,<br />

playing it safe (or, perhaps, he’s an auteur?). But that's also kind<br />

of fine because it's at least the kind of endearing comedy we<br />

used to get before everything was marketed to pre-teens.<br />

Somewhere in Queens’ writing can, architecturally and verbally, be<br />

sloppy, and the supporting characters aren't all that colorful, but<br />

there's also a genuine sensitivity to familial turmoil and<br />

characters of a certain age reconciling their anxieties. Romano<br />

plays Leo Russo, the kind of guy who asks the videographer at a<br />

wedding to cut him out of the video, a real middle-class mook.<br />

Dominick (Tony Lo Bianco), the Russo family patriarch, owns and<br />

operates the construction company that, naturally, employs the<br />

rest of the family. Leo, the less-loved son, reports to his<br />

self-important brother, Frank (Sebastian Manisalco). Leo is<br />

profoundly petrified that his wife, Angela (Laurie Metcalf),<br />

difficult though she may be, will realize that he's a schmuck and<br />

leave. Metcalf always proves reliably wonderful, elevating<br />

everything she's in, from early TV appearances on Roseanne to<br />

the lunatic mother of a lunatic son in Scream 2 to even a woman<br />

with a dilapidated sense of reality who lives in a ramshackle<br />

house in Nowhere, USA and who tells an amnesia-stricken Tony<br />

Shaloub that they married and then proceeds to demean him in<br />

her Emmy-nominated episode of Monk. Here, Angela is a cancer<br />

survivor, and her abrasive pugnaciousness makes her tough to<br />

love, but Leo loves her nonetheless. Their son Matthew (Jacob<br />

Ward), also known as "Sticks" thanks to his lanky legs, is shy,<br />

what you might call awkward, but he’s also a freak on the<br />

basketball court. And lest we forget, ‘70s character actor Lo<br />

Bianco pops up, which is worth a ticket in itself. Admittedly, in all<br />

this there’s an inchoate confusion to the glut of performances,<br />

from Metcalf's stylized histrionics to the minimalism of Romano’s<br />

work, but it doesn’t irk too much. Movies can be messy.<br />

Romano took a while to learn how to act. The early seasons of<br />

Raymond are stifled by his staid, at times almost somnolent<br />



CHERRY<br />

Sophie Galibert<br />

“There’s also a certain level of formal stylization at play here, as<br />

Galibert and cinematographer Damien Steck infuse the largely<br />

naturalistic milieu with subtle long takes and an expansive frame<br />

that allows the performers to fully perform. There are virtually no<br />

closeups or choppy shot-reverse-shot cutting here; instead,<br />

scenes play out almost in real-time, with conversations allowed<br />

to ebb and flow and detour. Other flourishes likewise resonate:<br />

Cherry’s visit to her dance troupe involves an actual performance<br />

of their entire elaborate routine, while recurring transitional<br />

scenes show Cherry roller skating blissfully to and fro her various<br />

destinations <strong>—</strong> it would be an obvious stretch to call these<br />

Ozu-ian pillow shots, but they do almost function in the same<br />

way. ” <strong>—</strong> DANIEL GORMAN [Published as part of <strong>InRO</strong>’s Tribeca 2022<br />

coverage.]<br />

DIRECTOR: Sophie Galibert; CAST: Alex Trewhitt, Hannah Alline,<br />

Dan Schultz; DISTRIBUTOR: Entertainment Squad; IN THEATERS<br />

& STREAMING: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. <strong>16</strong> min.<br />

presence; but like Jerry on Seinfeld, the show needs a straight<br />

man around whom the tumult and ridiculousness of the other,<br />

odder characters can wrap like wobbly whorls. Romano is<br />

significantly better in the later seasons, and here, perhaps<br />

enlivened and inspired by Metcalf's stellar work in a tough role, is<br />

actually quite good, subtly woebegone and tender. And in a scene<br />

where he asks the girl who just broke his son's heart if she can<br />

wait three more weeks, just until the basketball season is over, to<br />

end things, Romano finds a kind of vulnerability, a<br />

do-anything-for-your-kids earnestness that lands. Likely, this<br />

represents his best performance outside of The Irishman, in<br />

which the Queens-bred funnyman plays the modest but<br />

important role of a mob lawyer, underplaying the role but with a<br />

spark of life in his step, laced with the pride and pleasure he<br />

takes in his work.<br />

Unfortunately, Romano proves a much better actor than director,<br />

shooting scenes with a mundanity that makes it tough to analyze<br />

because no particular shots are to any degree memorable. There<br />

are movies that are a thrill to write about <strong>—</strong> good films, maybe<br />

even (gasp!) great ones, bad ones for sure <strong>—</strong> but the mediocre<br />

ones, the ones that fail to leave an impression, those tend to be<br />

the worst. Somewhere in Queens is one of those films. There are<br />

no major qualms to document, and the viewing experience is<br />

likely to be better than the reflection period for most viewers. It’s<br />

a fine enough feature to take your parents to so that they can<br />

reminisce about the golden days of the Raymond '90s, but there<br />

simply isn’t enough here to expect anyone to remember much of<br />

this past the day after. <strong>—</strong> GREG CWIK<br />

DIRECTOR: Ray Romano; CAST: Ray Romano, Laurie Metcalf,<br />

Sebastian Maniscalco; DISTRIBUTOR: Lionsgate / Roadside<br />

Attactions; IN THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 47 min.<br />


Damián David Szifron<br />

Arriving just 70 seconds into the film, the inciting incident of<br />

Damián David Szifron’s To Catch a Killer might break some kind of<br />

informal record for expediency. It’s New Year’s Eve in Baltimore<br />

(with Montreal none-too-convincingly filling in for Charm City),<br />

and revelers congregate and take selfies at sprawling rooftop<br />

parties against the backdrop of fireworks. Without warning, one<br />

of them collapses to the ground, the whiz of a far off gunshot<br />

muffled by the pumping club music. The same thing happens<br />

again at a balcony hot tub party a few blocks away. Then again at<br />

a nearby outdoor skating rink. A spree killer armed with a high<br />

powered rifle in an elevated location is indiscriminately opening<br />

fire on people, and by the time the shooting is over, 29 are dead,<br />

with the suspect having rigged his perch with explosives and<br />

escaping amidst the chaos. Into the fray rushes beat cop Eleanor<br />

(Shailene Woodley), who runs up a dozen flights of stairs without<br />

an oxygen mask, collapsing at the smoldering, smoke-filled crime<br />

scene, putting herself and her fellow officers in danger, although<br />

not before silently signaling to Special Agent Lammark (Ben<br />

Mendelsohn) to test the apartment’s toilet for trace evidence.<br />

Impulsive and inexperienced <strong>—</strong> Woodley reads as even younger<br />

than her actual age of 31 here <strong>—</strong> Eleanor is of dubious<br />

qualifications to play a central role in the investigation that’s to<br />

follow, but Lammark admires her instincts. She’s got spunk, and<br />

he loves spunk.<br />

The random nature of the victims and staggering body count<br />

calls to mind the Route 91 Festival massacre, and the Las Vegas<br />



mass shooting is indeed name-checked here, as are Covid<br />

lockdowns and political extremist groups like the Three<br />

Percenters. All of which is to say, the film is attempting to set its<br />

story amidst our current and endless national debate about gun<br />

violence and a polarized population where angry white men are<br />

isolated and radicalized. The staging of the shooting is arguably<br />

in poor taste <strong>—</strong> the film is attempting to be released in a week<br />

that doesn’t coincide with a high-profile mass shooting, a near<br />

impossible task <strong>—</strong> but all the same, it’s brutally effective in<br />

conveying the pervasive fear of being gunned down in a public<br />

place. To Catch a Killer moves between a series of locations<br />

bustling with humanity, allowing just enough time to scan the<br />

frame in anticipation of whose head might explode in a red mist<br />

<strong>—</strong> Szifron repeats this motif a few times throughout the film,<br />

even in scenes where there is no immediate violence, creating an<br />

unnerving Pavlovian effect. The sequence then concludes with<br />

an evocative shot where forensics teams located around the city<br />

trace the trajectory of the shooter using green lasers, all pointing<br />

toward the same high-rise window just as it explodes with<br />

comic-book villain flourish.<br />

The investigation is led by Lammark, a sour, paranoid G-man who<br />

speaks in rah-rah platitudes <strong>—</strong> the film attempts to<br />

humanize the character by giving him a doting husband, which it<br />

cynically treats as a “gotcha” twist. Stymied by the mayor’s office<br />

which refuses to lock down the city out of fear of losing a multibillion-dollar<br />

development deal, and penned in by his D.C. bosses<br />

who second-guess his methods, Lammark finds himself on a<br />

short leash and unsure of who he can even trust; that is, until he<br />

overhears Eleanor describing the killer in language better suited<br />

for a Tumblr post than a bullpen <strong>—</strong> “Evil is cutting off a bird’s<br />

wing just to see what happens; this guy’s swatting mosquitoes'' <strong>—</strong><br />

and takes a shine to her. Highlighting her mental illness, history<br />

of insubordination, and substance abuse as assets for this case,<br />

Lammark elevates Eleanor to his small investigative team<br />

(alongside Babylon’s Jovan Adepo), hoping she’ll be able to<br />

recognize the scent of another disenfranchised loner before he<br />

strikes again. It’s a laughable conceit, attempting to recreate the<br />

Will Graham-Jack Crawford dynamic of Manhunter, only if<br />

Graham’s prior experience was limited to rousting drunks and<br />

making coffee. The film frequently has to contort itself simply to<br />

justify laying the case at the feet of a shaky greenhorn instead<br />

of, say, an experienced criminal profiler (Woodley, for her part,<br />

comes across every bit as lost as one would expect, never quite<br />

tapping into an alleged reservoir of dysfunction and unique<br />

insight). In the end, the case is broken wide open not by<br />



depression as an investigative superpower, but by crossreferencing<br />

bank records… ya know, boring old police work.<br />

Ostensibly a dry procedural, the manhunt for a suspect<br />

converges with a lament for the state of American culture. The<br />

investigation reveals the way military-grade weapons meant for<br />

decommissioning trickle down to specialty gun dealerships, and<br />

the killings themselves only further open up existing fissures<br />

along racial and political lines; the film goes off on a tangent that<br />

concludes with a violent shootout in a pharmacy with white<br />

nationalists that, while thrilling in the moment, is a narrative<br />

dead-end. Szifron, an Argentine director (whose previous film,<br />

2014’s Wild Tales, also opened with a shocking act of mass<br />

violence, although it was played for black comedy there),<br />

attempts to bring an outsider’s perspective to the material, and<br />

clearly has more on his mind than just cheap thrills. You can feel<br />

the film fumbling around for some sort of an explanation for this<br />

decidedly American phenomenon, but it loses its nerve<br />

somewhere along the way, abandoning any kind of stinging<br />

indictment for a wan variation on “hurt people hurt people.” For<br />

all of its superficial nods to racial profiling and conservative<br />

news personalities riling up their viewership, the film ultimately<br />

comes down to a showdown at a farmhouse between the good<br />

guys and a chatty, only-in-the-movies criminal mastermind who’s<br />

at all times several steps ahead of his pursuers. No one expects<br />

a film like this to solve a problem as insidious and culturally<br />

ingrained as gun violence, but it's still an especially abrupt and<br />

disappointing reversion to the same old bullshit. It’s all as generic<br />

as its title implies. <strong>—</strong> ANDREW DIGNAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Damián David Szifron; CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ben<br />

Mendelsohn, Jovan Adepo; DISTRIBUTOR: Vertical; IN<br />

THEATERS: April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 59 min.<br />


Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok<br />

Since the late 1960s, readers of a certain age have been<br />

discovering and devouring Judy Blume’s books. Are You There<br />

God? It’s Me, Margaret, Blume’s breakout middle-grade novel, has<br />

taken up regular space on library and bookstore shelves since its<br />

release. That book, and many of the author’s others, has<br />

operated as the introduction to taboo topics for many young<br />

women (and men, if they’re being honest) <strong>—</strong> masturbation and<br />

sex, religion, divorce, and death, to name a few. This reviewer<br />

had a particular fondness for Starring Sally J. Freedman as<br />

Herself, a book in which Sally, a precocious 10-year-old Jewish<br />

girl, believes Adolf Hitler has moved into a neighboring Miami<br />

Beach apartment. And I wasn’t alone; as many celebrities,<br />

writers, and friends of Blume detail in Leach Wolchok and Davina<br />

Pardo’s new documentary Judy Blume Forever, her impact on the<br />

lives of children and adults over the last 50-plus years is almost<br />

unparalleled in the literary world.<br />

Like Blume’s books, which packed these heavy topics into<br />

bite-sized, digestible pieces for young adults and children,<br />

Wolchok and Pardo’s film boasts a child-like quality. Throughout<br />

Judy Blume Forever, scenes of Blume reading selections of her<br />

writing are juxtaposed with talking heads from celebrities and<br />

fans, as well as Blume’s recounting of the real-life experiences<br />

that influenced much of her work. She reads about Sally J.<br />

Freedman fearing for her father’s death while describing her own<br />

father passing away when she was still young; her adult novel<br />

Wifey, about a woman in an unhappy marriage, was released just<br />

as Blume was divorcing her first husband.<br />

Unlike the titular author’s books, however, Judy Blume Forever<br />

feels overly saccharine and artificial. Sure, her work has had a<br />

massive impact on these people’s lives, but the unending praise<br />

begins to tiptoe into sanctification and feels almost scripted by<br />

the end. The filmmakers also dedicate a large portion of Judy<br />

Blume Forever to the author reading correspondence from her<br />

readers, all of which she has kept throughout her career. This<br />

section proves to be the film’s most affecting thread, but it<br />

likewise can’t escape the sentimental shadow cast across the<br />

entire project. The only real conflict in the film comes when<br />

Blume discusses book banning, and the challenges she faced<br />

during the years of Reagan and the Moral Majority. The end of the<br />

film briefly juxtaposes that censorship to today’s political<br />

climate, but it ultimately foregoes depth and shies away from<br />

actually confronting or addressing the insidious motivations<br />

behind the attempted restrictions.<br />

Blume is such an aggressively endearing presence that it makes<br />

the work of critiquing the film, which is so deeply rooted in her<br />

experience and personality, an unenviable task. There’s just<br />



something undeniably and overwhelmingly charming about an<br />

85-year-old woman shouting, “Let’s raise our hands if we<br />

masturbate, everybody!” But at the same time, Blume is an<br />

85-year-old woman, one who has lived a lot of life and isn’t<br />

without controversy or thornier elements (recent comments<br />

about supporting J.K. Rowling, for example). Judy Blume Forever,<br />

made with the full cooperation from Blume, wasn’t ever going to<br />

be the place for such critiques, but one can’t help but feel<br />

disappointed that a film tackling such a bold figure makes the<br />

timid decision to go the hagiographic route.. <strong>—</strong> EMILY<br />


DIRECTOR: Davina Pardo & Leah Wolchok; CAST: <strong>—</strong>;<br />


April 21; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 37 min.<br />


Kōji Fukada<br />

“Fukada makes good on such an abject, confused ennui with<br />

his penchant for antiseptic, digital imagery, a severe flatness<br />

rebuffing any and all conventional beauty. The nearly fatal<br />

meet-cute is brought forth in snatches of static frames, the<br />

parallel editing almost abstract in how it intriguingly saps any<br />

latent excitement from the straightforward fact that a train is<br />

barreling toward our two characters.” <strong>—</strong> PATRICK PREZIOSI<br />

DIRECTOR: Kōji Fukada; CAST: Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura,<br />

Kei Ishibashi, Shôhei Uno; DISTRIBUTOR: Film Movement &<br />

MUBI; STREAMING: April 17; RUNTIME: 3 hr. 52 min.<br />



I’VE IVE<br />

Ive<br />

It’s a glorious time to be a fan of girl<br />

groups. UK trio FLO is paying homage to<br />

TLC and Aaliyah, and they’re poised to have<br />

a massive year; Japan’s XG and SG5 both<br />

have unusually Western pop ambitions;<br />

new and interesting Thai-pop groups are<br />

appearing every day. But when it comes to<br />

the unique joy of watching a group perfect<br />

the vibrant potential of pop music, no one<br />

is flourishing quite like the fourth-gen<br />

K-pop girls. (G)I-DLE, Fromis_9, Itzy, Aespa,<br />

STAYC, Pixy, Tri.be, Purple Kiss, Billlie,<br />

Kep1er, Viviz, Le Sserafim, NewJeans, CSR,<br />

TripleS, Fifty Fifty, and more <strong>—</strong> there’s a<br />

group for every sound and mood, from<br />

electronic badassery to nostalgic love<br />

ballads to chic synthpop to playful<br />

witchery. It’s almost overwhelming how<br />

much great pop music is emanating from<br />

the talented ladies of K-pop, and being<br />

generated by the diverse creative visions<br />

behind them.<br />

current K-pop wave of “reject loud<br />

experimentation, embrace tradition” and<br />

reached almost unprecedented success<br />

by doing so.<br />

To dig into the whole sonics of it, IVE’s<br />

efforts so far have been what you might<br />

call okay-to-good: “Eleven” was<br />

unassuming, and “After Like” felt a bit<br />

rushed and overly derivative after two<br />

years of relentless disco K-pop. But then<br />

there was “Love Dive,” which features<br />

some of the most impeccable sound<br />

design and slow-burn brilliance to come<br />

out of pop music this decade. And<br />

notably, all of IVE’s singles sound like<br />

them, even with only half a dozen tracks<br />

to their name <strong>—</strong> they sing about your<br />

standard teenage crushes, but with a<br />

winking confidence that implies they<br />

have positioned those feelings right<br />

where they want them.<br />

I’ve IVE is the group’s first full album and,<br />

as their first comeback longer than two<br />

tracks, almost doubles the size of their<br />

discography. (Yes, the title is an<br />

unfortunate crime against grammar.)<br />

Although it’s IVE’s first foray into crafting<br />

an extended set of B-sides, the biggest<br />

story here is still the two singles. At first<br />

glance, the whispered, bitchy anti-drop of<br />

prerelease single “Kitsch” feels at odds<br />

with the group’s sound. But a closer listen<br />

uncovers percussion bubbles boasting<br />

the same precision as the verses of “Love<br />

Dive,” and the lyrics about looking<br />

envy-worthy on Instagram fit right into<br />

their established rich-girl aesthetic <strong>—</strong> it<br />

doesn’t matter whether it’s a bug or<br />

In the next few weeks, <strong>InRO</strong> will be<br />

covering new releases from three of the<br />

biggest K-pop rookie groups currently<br />

working. First up is IVE, a six-member girl<br />

group who hit it big with their debut in late<br />

2021 and have only reached higher heights<br />

since. Their first three singles <strong>—</strong> “Eleven,”<br />

“Love Dive,” and “After Like” <strong>—</strong> were all<br />

pleasant, accessible, and vocal-forward,<br />

with production playing a supporting role<br />

to melody and the members’ guiding<br />

charisma. These massively popular tracks<br />

quickly established IVE’s mission<br />

statement as something like “Just make<br />

some good freaking pop music,” and<br />

together with NewJeans, they’ve led the<br />



feature that “nineteen’s kitsch” is a<br />

hilariously obvious rewrite of a demo<br />

about being a nineties bitch.<br />

But where “Kitsch” is a breezy introduction<br />

to the era, “I Am” is a triumph. The group’s<br />

previous singles were distinctly fun, but<br />

this latest one is grand. The melodies<br />

challenge the vocalists in new ways,<br />

making each determined, sky-high launch<br />

into the chorus feel earned (“Life is a<br />

beautiful galaxy”), and the production<br />

sparkles with powerful synths and even a<br />

glittering electric guitar in the final<br />

chorus. On a technical level, “I Am” is not<br />

the group’s most interesting track (the<br />

pre-chorus and chorus are just the same<br />

melody repeated), but it’s maybe more<br />

impressive how the girls make it so that it<br />

doesn't matter, generating a stronger<br />

emotional pull here than on any of their<br />

previous releases. Importantly, both<br />

singles make obvious what was previously<br />

mere subtext: IVE’s music is about<br />

watching their own star being born.<br />

I’ve IVE stands at 11 tracks total, and the<br />

B-sides range from interesting to<br />

serviceable. A few stand out as new<br />

territory for the group: namely, the<br />

anthemic chants and minor-key strings of<br />

“Blue Blood” (title reinforcing their<br />

branding), the genuinely cute Disney<br />

Channel pop of “Not Your Girl,” and the<br />

clanging piano chords of “Hypnosis,” which<br />

could have soundtracked a rap song as<br />

easily as it does IVE’s light vocals. (After<br />

playing it straight for a year and a half,<br />

they have the right to be a bit obnoxious<br />

for two minutes.) Elsewhere, “Lips” takes<br />

another prominent piano line in an entirely<br />

different direction, with the same breezy<br />

mood as “Kitsch,” but with a less nuanced<br />

arrangement. (It’s still enjoyable, but you<br />

can tell that the singles on this album<br />

were made to hold up to much more<br />

concerted scrutiny than the rest.) And<br />

then there’s “Shine With Me,” which is a<br />

standard album-closing power ballad, not<br />

much worth any further commentary<br />

beyond that qualification.<br />

The rest of the tracks <strong>—</strong> “Heroine,” “Mine,”<br />

“Next Page,” and “Cherish” <strong>—</strong> all occupy a<br />

very similar sonic space: first, start with<br />

some tasteful percussion, throw in a<br />

gentle synth, and then choose a simple<br />

titular hook to pull things together.<br />

“Mine,” for its part, at least does a<br />

particularly good job at the classic<br />

“mid-tempo pulsing synth” sound, but<br />

“Heroine” has nothing to say that the<br />

other songs don’t already, and could have<br />

easily been cut. They’re all perfectly<br />

pleasant enough, though very much<br />

B-sides, with no capacity to take on a<br />

starring role. And although everything<br />

sounds like IVE’s style of “make good pop<br />

music with a young, chic twist,” the divide<br />

between the big event songs and the ones<br />

always intended to be tracklist filler is too<br />

apparent not to be observed.<br />

For all its ups and downs, IVE’s latest<br />

comeback is the group’s first attempt at<br />

an album statement of any significant<br />

length, which is a considerable milestone<br />

for any rookie group. The results roughly<br />

meet the expectations set by their<br />

previous work, with a clear focus<br />

dedicated to perfecting the handful of<br />

songs that will actually linger in the<br />

public’s memory, while the rest are<br />

handled with similar polish but less<br />

underlying ambition. There’s nothing<br />

particularly novel about the music of it<br />

all, but the project does boast great<br />

singles and solid enough deep cuts to<br />

keep dedicated fans hanging around: in<br />

other words, the classic pop album<br />

dynamic for a group who have dedicated<br />

themselves to the craft of classic pop<br />

music. <strong>—</strong> KAYLA BEARDSLEE<br />

LABEL: Starship Entertainment;<br />

RELEASE DATE: April 10<br />


Zelooperz<br />

At first, it wasn’t necessarily clear how<br />

seriously one should take Zelooperz, his<br />

defining traits being “Internet rap<br />

oddball” and “Danny Brown protege.”<br />

Discovered in the lead-up to his<br />

much-hyped 2014 album Old, Brown<br />

plucked the then 20-year-old rapper out<br />

of obscurity and gifted him the hook on<br />

“Kush Coma,” a standout A$AP<br />

Rocky-featuring track. A member of<br />

Brown’s loosely organized Bruiser Brigade<br />

from then on and up to current day (at<br />

this point, the collective has evolved into<br />

a genuine label), these two Detroit-based<br />

rappers have been tethered to each other<br />

in more ways than one ever since, with<br />

Zelooperz’s signature squawky vocals and<br />

taste for esoteric production (both<br />

knowingly silly and devotedly<br />

avant-garde) echoing the preferred<br />

aesthetics of his mentor. Debut album<br />

Bothic fell victim to dismissive critical<br />

comparisons of this nature, unfavorably<br />

casting it against the still-celebrated Old,<br />

and ultimately looking past its qualities in<br />

anticipation of Brown’s fourth album,<br />

which would arrive a few months later.<br />

Zelooperz seems unbothered by this<br />

narrative, or at least hasn’t allowed it to<br />


slow him down, with the rapper/painter<br />

(now 30) only building momentum in the<br />

seven years between Bothic’s release and<br />

now, dropping eight records along the<br />

way.<br />

A new one, Microphone Fiend, which landed<br />

at the start of April, puts Zelooperz at an<br />

impressive nine albums since 20<strong>16</strong>, a<br />

rather remarkable pace for any musician,<br />

even in the hyper-fast streaming era. It's<br />

also remarkable that his output remains<br />

solid and dynamic, Microphone Fiend<br />

offering no particular drop in quality from<br />

the horror-tinged Gremlin, nor the more<br />

freewheeling Dyno-Mite (on which he and<br />

Danny reconvene to trade verses over the<br />

Crash Bandicoot music) <strong>—</strong> both highlights<br />

of this recent rapid-fire release schedule.<br />

On the other hand, Microphone Fiend isn’t<br />

so much better or so much more<br />

distinctive than those other projects (pop<br />

R&B concept album Get WeT.Radio could<br />

at least claim the latter), all of them<br />

decent enough, often amusing, but<br />

generally a few songs short of being<br />

wholly great. Album opener “Climate<br />

Change” kicks things off by sampling<br />

Little Richard’s 1988 Grammy presenter<br />

gig (“And the best new artist is… Me!”), as<br />

if to signal Zelooperz frustrations with<br />

the continued lack of industry respect,<br />

before launching into a jaunty, rolling<br />

Chuck Inglish beat worthy of Chance the<br />

Rapper. His vocal affectations end up<br />

landing somewhere near Chano’s as well,<br />


while still often bringing DB to mind,<br />

operating on a gradient that runs from a<br />

yelp to a bark.<br />

To his credit, Zelooperz never appears<br />

constrained by these seemingly narrow<br />

parameters, challenging his delivery to<br />

adapt to a range of production<br />

possibilities (“Demon n Deities” taking<br />

this to a near experimental extreme),<br />

though really it’s mostly the more<br />

aggressive, hard-hitting beats (“Bustin<br />

Jieber,” “Can’t Fill Your Tank”) that<br />

provoke his strongest performances, as<br />

has often been the case in the past. At<br />

times a charming, elusive figure, at other<br />

times a bit too taken with juvenalia and<br />

“weird humor,” Zelooperz continues to<br />

define his world with Microphone<br />

Fiend without necessarily<br />

making huge progress. Still, one<br />

gets the sense that this record,<br />

like the rest, could be a piece of<br />

a bigger picture. The last few<br />

years have found Zelooperz<br />

collaborating fruitfully outside<br />

and underneath the Bruiser<br />

Brigade umbrella, finding worthy<br />

peers like Earl Sweatshirt,<br />

BbyMutha, Pink Siifu, Fly Anakin,<br />

etc. <strong>—</strong> inspiring artists with<br />

interesting approaches to the<br />

genre. This, in tandem with the<br />

consistent quality of his<br />

projects, is reason enough to<br />

continue to believe Zelooperz is<br />

carving out a notable space in<br />

hip hop right now. <strong>—</strong> M.G.<br />


LABEL: Bruiser Brigade;<br />

RELEASE DATE: March 28<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures; Page 1 - Eliot Lepinay/Grasshopper Film; Page 3, 5 -<br />

Grasshopper Film; Page 7,8 - Columbia/TriStar Pictures.; Page 9 -Nikkatsu/Japan Foundation;<br />

Page 10 - Nikkatsu/Criterion Collection; Page 11 - Niko Tavernise/Prime Video; Page 13 - Takasi<br />

Seida; Page 14 - A24; Page <strong>16</strong> - Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures; Page 18 - Christopher<br />

Raphael/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures; Page 20 - Apple TV+; Page 21 - KimStim; Page 22 - Ben<br />

King/Goalpost Pictures/Sony Pictures Classics; Page 23 - Jonathan Hession/CTMG Inc; Page 25 -<br />

Mary Cybulski/Credit of Roadside Attractions; Page 27 - Vertical Entertainment; Page 29 - Prime<br />

Video; Page 30 - Starship Entertainment; Page 32 - Bruiser Brigade; Back Cover - Larry<br />

Horricks/20th Century Studios

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