The movie that shouldn’t, did. The living Frank Frazetta mural, baptized in color and viscera, is nothing short of a paradoxical achievement. Unapologetically influenced by ’70s and 80’s metal, there isn’t any to be heard. Instead, the audience laments in Johann Johannsson’s aethereal final score. Nicholas Cage’s notorious intensity is on display, but “Mandy” may also be his most vulnerable performance. The story is gritty and hyper-violent but languid and pensive in its execution.
This movie almost didn’t make this list, but its success is a part of that paradox. I don’t think its so much an outlier, but a reaction to contemporary filmmaking. Theatrical productions are becoming cliche just by existing.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said “My problem is I have a relationship with an audience around the world. For years I’ve built a trust with them that they’re gonna come to my movies and feel good.”
I get it. Most of the time, people want to get what they pay for. You want to jump at a pale-faced thing in a Blumhouse production, you want The Rock to save his family from a building, and you want the corky romance to work out. We’re just so saturated in that, we can figure out the movie from the trailer. “Mandy” is an antibody to that creative paralysis. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen, but it’s an entirely fearless, idiosyncratic and uncompromising experience.
Never Goin’ Back:
In that early twenties sweet-spot, everyone pitches an aimless stoner comedy. “Me and my buddy, Dron, get into so much wild shit, you wouldn’t believe it.” They’re fun, sure, but they’re more of a series of embarrassing skits than a movie. “Never goin’ back” is not only a complete story but a hilarious cavalcade of bad decisions.
Unlike the fantastical antics of Harold and Kumar or whatever their names were in “Pineapple Express,” “Never Goin’ Back” is presented through a more naturalistic lens with grounded stakes and consequences. Usually “grounded” implies boring or bleak, but “Never Goin’ Back” can go comedically toe-to-toe with anything starring Seth Rogan. The synopsis of two girls trying to pay rent so they can go on vacation is pretty thin, but you could also say “The Lord Of The Rings” is a 10-hour amazon delivery.
Summer of ’84:
Let’s be honest. Most kids getting into perilous 80’s hijinks would be dead. Once a vaudevillian avatar for evil or a lanky flower with teeth shows up, those hormonal scamps would freeze and then be torn in half. Enter “Summer of ’84.”
Metatextually exhausted from 80’s nostalgia, “Summer of ’84” tells the story of a group of friends suspecting they live next to a serial killer. All the tropes are there. There’s puberty banter, pop culture references, and a synth score over a Spielbergian neighborhood. They subvert the nostalgia by being soberingly unceremonious. “Summer of ’84” is familiar yet daring as it roams truly horrifying territory; reality.
“Searching” transcends its gimmick by being as well written as possible. We’ve had plenty of movies with a similar motif, but “Searching’s“ computer screen motif is vital to the story.
John Cho delivers his best performance to date as a widowed father trying to find his missing daughter. For a movie that takes place entirely on a computer screen, it’s not distracting in the slightest. That may be saying something about how much I look at screens.
The Other Side of the Wind:
I just want to try to write this sentence…
The long-lost movie from alcoholic film pioneer, Orsen Welles, tells the story of a revered yet alcoholic director struggling to complete his long last movie….huh.
Filmed in 1970, “The Other Side of the Wind,” which admittedly sounds like a euphemism for flatulence, was released on Netflix after forty years of legal, financial, and political friction. As fascinating as its production history is, and as inadvertently meta as is its synopsis, the actual movie is an achievement in storytelling. Experimental for its time, “The Other Side of the Wind” is a fictional behind-the-scenes narrative cobbled together by footage from documentarians, party-goers, and scenes from the in-story incomplete film.
The movie is a thought-provoking Russian nest-doll of a film, but when you incorporate Orsen Welles, and the film’s odyssey just to exist, it becomes an infinite mirror where you stare into an endless void of self-destructing fractals.
It also warns us of hipsters. Maybe the world would have been different if it came when it was intended.
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich:
“Halloween” got all the spotlight for reinvigorating a horror franchise but let’s not overlook Full Moon’s Starwalt franchise. After twelve movies, “Puppet Master” returns with a grounded enthusiasm. Foregoing the property’s fairly subdued pace, “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich” panders to what audiences have been waiting for; gore, silliness, and passion.
Servicing fans is something that should be condemned, but after 12 movies, its just nice to see a fresh perspective. Add Tom Lennon, gnarly practical effects, and the writer of “Bone Tomahawk, and this installment should please die-hards and newcomers alike. I also really respect Full Moon Features as a production company. While Troma was wearing its minuscule budget on its sleeve, Full Moon attempted to add as much production value as possible.
Where “Mandy” implodes a genre and “The Other Side of the Wind” inadvertently trail blazes a style; “The Ranger” competently exemplifies one. The 80’s punk slasher finds a group of teens hiding from the law in a remote cabin. To their dismay, the local forest ranger has a forgone relationship with the final girl as well as a penchant for murder.
The Ranger himself is particularly captivating and knowing he’s insane from the get-go saves us from the tepid ‘whodunit’ aspect of a slasher. It’s an easy sell when you add some three-dimensional characters, a screenplay injected with care and graffiti splattered with carnage.
The most under-appreciated creative endeavor of the year goes to “Possum.” Before we go into its synopsis, know that it was shot on Kodak 35mm film, stars Sean Harris, has a score composed by Radiophonic Workshop, and possesses a nightmare-inducing spider puppet designed by legendary nightmare inducer Dominic Hailstone. Those credentials are worth the iTunes rental…or amazon prime stream….or Netflix holdout…or Hulu charge…or however crackle works.
Overall, “Possum” is a layered psychological horror film fermented in Freudian philosophies, rust, and pointy edges. The plight of Sean Harris’ traumatized puppeteer may rely on its atmosphere opposed to its scares, but Possum’s shear uncompromising execution is nothing short of commendable.
Yeah, technically this came out in 2017, but these things take time and its awesome…what?… So? That’s how these things work…The Oscars take place in the next year anyway….No, “Phantom Thread” counts as 2017….I don’t care that you saw it in 2018, so did I, WE ALL DID! IT’S A BROKEN SYSTEM!
Anyway, “House Shark” is not a figurative title. An ex-cop must confront a shark that somehow lives in his walls. A crude and comedic reimagining of “Jaws,” “House Shark” is Z-grade indie filmmaking at its best. The ridiculous premise is why you start, but the ingenuity and passion from the crew are why you stay.
- Random Tid-Bit:
- I don’t know of another actor that could pull off the bathroom scene in Mandy.
- It was nice to see that the purile “Never Goin’ Back” was directed by Augustine Frizzell and not Dron.
- Huh, no Hyper violent Korean movie this year…
TOP REGULAR SHIT 2018 (So Far): Annihilation, Widows, Upgrade, The Favorite, First Reformed, Sorry To Bother You, Hereditary, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, American Animals, You Were Never Really Here, Avengers Infinity war.