What we watch in cinema, if you ask a thousand people, you may get a thousand answers. But what we want from cinema? I think that answer is simpler.
We want cinema even at its most fantastic to tell us something true. To tell us something about ourself, and how we can aspire to be better than ourself. And that is what the best cinema does, for the fleeting time we share our attention with it, whether in a darkened theater or a light lit living room, we want to aspire to more than we are, to be better than we are.
Whether inspired to, if only in our dreams, be nicer, or more caring, or more concerned, or more heroic, or more… humane. That’s a rare gift, in a dire age, for cinema for a fleeting moment to have us believe in being better.
That is what BEYOND THE LIGHTS does. With a stellar cast of new faces and seasoned pros, Gina Prince-Bythewood of LOVE AND BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES here with her third feature film, creates inarguably her best film, and one that will become a perennial classic in households everywhere. But particularly households of color, in an America that increasingly is more ethnically diverse, our cinema and media is, doggedly and obstinately it would seem, ever more dismissive and marginalizing and denigrating, to characters of color or stories of color, that do not fit into narrow, nonthreatening, and tired stereotypes.
That’s why Gina Prince-Bythewood as writer and director is so important, and BEYOND THE LIGHTS should be so heralded. In an America where Urban Love is often defined for young people in terms of players and hos, or in terms of its absence, it is so rewarding and refreshing to see a movie with intelligent Black Characters (ie more than one or two token characters) and healthy Black relationships, between Black Men and Black women, that does not fall into tired rhetoric, or bashing, or talk show idiocy.
Korean media and cinema is filled with such loving positive interplay, as is Japanese, or Thai, or Russian, or Dutch, or Indian, or Spanish. But somehow when it comes to the broad and diverse ethnic group called Black (African-American being a marginalizing appellation, misapplied and removed from the inclusive, unifying bridge it was meant, but failed to be. Defining an ethnic group, using a nationalistic descriptor being the height of stupidity), positive loving images are in drastic shortage.
As Black Men are increasingly invisible or the sexless , funny sidekick or cross dressing Enuchs in mass media, and Black women increasingly the hor, or the pining 2nd choice for the White Knight of American mass media. Or they are self-hating thugs, raised and bedded on ignorance.
With such a table, and such rotten food to feed young and old alike on, when someone brings to the table a fine steak or beautiful trout, you realize just how empty you had been, and for how long.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS is a great film, that makes you feel better for having seen it. Makes you feel better. What a concept.
Hopefully we can look forward to more such filmmakers and more such films. Highly Recommended!
Try it for free on Netflix, but only long enough to realize you really want to own this film in Blu-Ray. Get your copy here:
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT – This is a drenchingly romantic and exquisite film with a soundtrack to die for. One of the most sumptuously beautiful “horror” films of all time, and to call it a horror film is to undersell it. This is more. This is a parable that defies simple genre. A sublime bit of movie making, fueled by masterful sound design and cinematography, and patient, stylized and phenomenal direction, with echoes both Lynchian and Murnauistic.
Writer, directed Ana Lily Amirpour with one film has catapulted herself into the ranks of “Must See” Filmmakers.
Most films don’t live up to their poster or their hype (I’m looking at you BIG BAD WOLVES and BABADOOK), I’m happy to say A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT absolutely does.
I just saw it for free courtesy of Netflix, and this is one I HAVE to own in the highest quality Blu-Ray available. Ideally with commentary and special features. It is that impressive of a debut.
Grade: A+. Highest Recommendation.
And run, do not walk, to get the Blu-Ray at the link below:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Special Collector’s Edition Blu-ray)
THE SHOUT (1978) – THE SHOUT is a type of horror film that the 70s managed to produce arguably better than any other decade (save perhaps our current streaming generation, the share bulk of content at our fingertips allows for a diverse range of content and experimentation). The eerie existential tale of foreboding; tales of protagonists beset from seemingly all sides by nameless and unnameable dreads that live disturbingly close to the fragile facade of our normal lives.
A culmination of sorts of the filmic movements before it (namely Expressionism, often called German Expressionism, and Film Noir) and the new dynamism of the conflicted post war, post age of Aquarius 70s; 70s Expressionist horror grafting the fatalism of Film Noir to Expressionism’s use of exaggeration and distortion to illicit an emotional response, to create a horror that was more about broader questions of what lives beyond the borders of the accepted, and the illusions… of control.
Films like DON’T LOOK NOW, IMAGES, THE ABOMINABLE DOCTOR PHIBES, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, THE DUNWICH HORROR, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, MAGIC, OBSESSION, PHANTASM, DEEP RED, THE SENTINEL, SUSPIRIA, ERASERHEAD, SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS, GANJA & HESS, NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND are marked by extreme directorial flourishes, bordering on surrealism, creating worlds of emotive rather than accepted reality.
THE SHOUT, features a stellar cast of burgeoning British Stars, among them Alan Bates, Susannah York, John Hurt and Tim Curry, all brilliantly directed by the legendary filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski. His only film in the horror genre, THE SHOUT much like IMAGES (directed by another great, serious filmmaker Robert Altman), manages to be not just a great genre film, but one of the best films of Skolimowski’s lauded career.
Not the typical Horror movie, the best horror of the 70s resists and transcends easy classifications, and trite genre labels. Indeed THE SHOUT would be as justified in the drama or fantasy or art film designation as any other, but somehow horror seems to sum up best the creeping unease that these types of 70s films in general, and THE SHOUT in particular, provide.
This is horror not of the slasher or torture porn fodder that unfortunately passes too-often for horror in the 21st century, but something more… imaginative. While the 70s had its own knife wielding maniacs, that was often played as a facet of the horror, rather than the horror in total. The horror that the 70s dealt in was rather a call back to the existential roots of cinema, horror, and arguably humanity, the MR James and Wakefield definitions of horror… the horror, with questions that endure.
Jerzy Skolimowski’s THE SHOUT is a film that rewards repeat viewings. See it for yourself courtesy of Amazon Prime, or get the DVD here: The Shout [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import – United Kingdom ] or Blu-Ray here: The Shout (1978) [ NON-USA FORMAT, Blu-Ray, Reg.B Import – United Kingdom ]
CRAWL OR DIE – Mixing part ALIEN, part DESCENT, part TANK GIRL and sporting committed performances by its cast, particularly Nicole Alonso as Tank, who carries the bulk of the movie, CRAWL OR DIE manages to be more than its influences. Written and Directed by the fantastically named Oklahoma Ward and co-produced and conceived by star and producer Nicole Alonso CRAWL OR DIE manages to, transcend its inspirations, to feel fresh and be a surprisingly compelling 91 minutes of film.
Ostensibly a monster movie it becomes for star and audience something of an endurance test, filled as it is with moments of repetition, belly-gazing, and frustration,,, but mostly it is about the will of Man or in this case Woman… to survive. An addictive tale of endurance, and the will to go on, and it doesn’t hurt that you have the fine form of Nicole Alonso to follow through those tunnels (while unlikely someone would strip down to their underwear to crawl through a tunnel, having watched the movie, I for one am quite supportive of the decision :) ).
Add to that a well done creature design, a definite call to the designs of HR Giger, immersive sound design, and an unusual and frenetic title/credit sequence and you have a movie deserving of being far more well known and well seen than it is.
This is the type of film that is a great reason for DVDs and Blurays to still exist in the age of streaming, because yes I saw it for free on Amazon Prime, but I immediately wanted to own this in the best quality available, complete with Director’s and cast commentary, and special features; because for me, and others, documenting the the process can be as interesting (and sometimes moreso) as the movie.
Unfortunately CRAWL AND DIE currently has no such DVD/Blu-Ray version, and it is indicative of a failing of the industry, companies releasing these bare-bone DVDs without special features. As a rule I do not buy DVDs unless they have director’s commentary and special features.
I think these small independent film productions (such as this or FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY, BLOOD GLACIER, THE ARROYO, CUT TO BLACK, PRAYER TO A VENGEFUL GOD, THE VALDEMAR LEGACY, AT THE DEVIL’S DOOR, THE FORBIDDEN GIRL) are doing themselves a disservice by not mining the, if not large, passionate and influential DVD/Blu-Ray aficionado market, as well as providing for posterity a little bit of documentation of the process and promotion/aggrandizement of their cast and crew.
That aside CRAWL OR DIE (far better than the other, more offensive, title that early on was bandied about for it), potentially the first in a trilogy… comes strongly Recommended. Grade: B+.
For those of you who want to try before you buy go here:
For those of you like me who like the permanence of physical media (not needing access to the cloud to view a given film, or being at the mercy of data throttling) go here:
Crawl Or Die DVD
Crawl Or Die DVD
A 45 year old movie, it may be hard to put it’s acclaim into perspective, if you don’t give credence to its age.
In 1970 when this film came out, its visuals alone and sumptuous use of the camera… was unequaled, ground breaking even. This slightly surrealist and absurdist tale of mores in a time where lunacy was sanity, and sanity lunacy, directed by the great Bernardo Bertolucci, still has its dna in so much that has come to be European cinema and transcendent cinema.
Let’s put it this way, every film Danish director Lars Von Trier has tried in the 21st century (the bulk of his 17 film output), to my mind has been his inferior take on the themes of the CONFORMIST. Lars Von Trier movies of the 21st century being very much Bertolucci movies done by someone with none of Bertolucci’s talent or vision. The only exception to this being Lars Von Trier’s first movie, and in my opinion only really great movie 1984’s ELEMENT OF CRIME; which like THE CONFORMIST is a flawed but must see film.
I don’t think THE CONFORMIST itself necessarily holds up, I don’t think it was ever a masterpiece, there’s is something to cold in it, to fully engage, too rambling, and unfocused, but there is much in the film, in its construction that was and remains… masterful.
Definitely a film deserving of watching and I think owning in the highest quality possibly, to fully enjoy its visuals and camera-work. Grade: For fans of surrealism and beautiful cinematography, it is a must own. All others may be content with catching it on Netflix.
Movie of the Day: BAD ASS 2 : BADASSES
I really had no interest in seeing the first BAD ASS film, but the addition of Danny Glover to BAD ASS 2, made me intrigued enough to give the sequel a look.
And I’m glad I did. It is just a fun throwback, homage, and good natured satire on the action, buddy, revenge flicks of the 80s. And both Danny Trejo and Danny Glover are such natural, and likable actors, that watching this is a great way to spend 90 minutes. Wonderfully and surprisingly well-written and directed by Craig Moss (whose list of previous films does not inspire confidence or interest).
Currently available to try before you buy via on Demand on Netflix or buy the DVD here: