Creeptober: Horror for Halloween Month (Evil Dead Edition)

For eleven-twelfths of the year, I abstain from horror movies. With few exceptions that I can remember – the only ones coming to mind being when I watched the Frank Langella version of Dracula (1979) late on a hot July night and watching a double bill of Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944) on an August night on TCM – I always wait until October for my horror-genre enjoyment.

2016 has been fun so far: Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), The Return of Doctor X (1939), The Climax (1944), The Strange Door (1951), House of Wax (1953), The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel, 1960), Incubus (1966), The Exorcist (1973) [which, for the record, I hated], The Sentinel (1977), The Changeling (1980), Venom (1981), The Others (2001) and The Conjuring (2013) have all now been checked off my list. But without a doubt the best decision I could have made this Halloween season was to watch Sam Raimi’s low-budget masterpiece, The Evil Dead (1981), and subsequently to watch the film’s two sequels and the follow-up TV show currently airing on the STARZ network, “Ash vs Evil Dead.”

Billed as “The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror,” The Evil Dead was filmed in 1979 for next to nothing (I think the budget was approximately $350,000), it was first shown in 1981 and it eventually became a cult classic upon its national theatrical release in 1983 and later (massive) popularity on home video. The film made an unlikely star out of Bruce Campbell, who is now an icon of horror/sci-fi/other weird genres, and Sam Raimi has had an interesting track record as a director, including the Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire (2002-2007) and the Cate Blanchett-starring supernatural thriller that I like quite a bit, The Gift (2000). I think I did the best type of preparation possible for The Evil Dead, which is to say I didn’t read anything about it. I didn’t want to spoil any aspect of the viewing experience. Perhaps it would have been good to know that the film has more gore than any film I have ever seen – enough to warrant an NC-17 rating, although technically the DVD is unrated – but in the end, I didn’t actually mind. When a film is as entertaining as The Evil Dead, extreme blood and guts get a pass.

(The only thing worse than listening to a book on tape: listening to the Book of the Dead on reel-to-reel audio tape.)

It’s easy to see why Bruce Campbell’s character, Ash (or Ashley J. Williams in full), has become such a beloved hero – although perhaps I should say antihero since he sometimes undermines his ability to save the world through sheer dumbness. In this first film, Ash has to kill his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, and two other friends when they become possessed by evil spirits (roused by passages spoken aloud from the Book of the Dead, aka the Necronomicon) during a weekend stay at a remote cabin. These unlucky friends’ reanimated bodies won’t stop until they take Ash down with them too. As the undead – or Deadites, as they are called in the franchise – stalk Ash through the various rooms in the cabin and in the basement underneath, director Sam Raimi displays maximum creativity as a horror filmmaker. Not bad for a 19-going-on-20-year-old making a feature-length flick in between semesters at Michigan State.

So then we come to Evil Dead II (1987). How do you make a sequel to The Evil Dead? By making a parody, of course! The fearsome cabin in the woods becomes a funhouse where Bruce Campbell – whose chin could kill if it so chose – turns the acting dial for Ash up to 11 and delivers a physical comedy performance worthy of cinema’s greatest clowns. Obviously the scenes where Ash’s hand is possessed, and therefore must be sawed off before it kills its owner, exhibit a ton of skillful stuntsmanship, including the impressive flip that Bruce Campbell does to launch himself headfirst onto the floor.

Evil Dead II also bestows upon us the gift of the iconic scene where Ash, now free of his right hand, first attaches his now-famous chainsaw appendage.

Raimi and Campbell further upped the stakes (ha!) with the third leg (ha ha!) of the trilogy, Army of Darkness (1992). In a madcap tribute to Ray Harryhausen, Ash must fight a legion of angry skeletons in the year 1300 (an evil vortex sent Ash back in time at the end of Evil Dead II). You can imagine how terrified people of that era would have been to see guns, but at least Ash gets to work in his sales pitch from the Michigan retail store where he works, S-Mart. In the second clip, you also witness some of Sam Raimi’s evident affection for the Three Stooges’ brand of humor.

Even though this was not originally supposed to be the ending of Army of Darkness, I love the last scenes in the film. Ridiculous, over-the-top, fun. Hail to the king, indeed.

The TV series “Ash vs Evil Dead” picks up exactly where any fan would expect: Ash, still working as a stockboy (or is it stockman?) in small-town Michigan and wasting away without purpose, must fight another wave of Deadites when he accidentally recites some of the Necronomicon’s demon-summoning text during a drunken rendezvous with a lady friend. Delightful pandemonium ensues.

Let’s end with some bits from late night talk shows and other online goodness. Backtracking to last year, I remember seeing this charmingly oddball interview with Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless on “The Late Show.” Campbell’s impression of Stephen Colbert, not because of the voice or even the look, but because he so totally nailed Colbert’s particular body language.

My favorite YouTube comment on this “Conan” interview clip from last month: “I’ve never heard the word ‘booby’ come from the mouth of a classier man. What a guy.”

Finally, we have Bruce Campbell and his “Ash vs Evil Dead” costar, Lucy Lawless (of “Xena: Warrior Princess” fame), reviewing scenes from some classic and not-so-classic horror movies. Lesson learned: some of the best film criticism can come from those who have firsthand knowledge of working in the genre. Here’s to more time spent with the most evil of the dead and the guys and gals who send them back to hell.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: October 2016

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen on the set of The Girl on the Train, 2015/2016.

Here are eighteen new movies due to be released in October (either in theaters or on Netflix) which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

OCTOBER 7: All in Time (dirs. Marina Donahue and Chris Fetchko)From the Keystone Rock Review: “Mainly set in and filmed in the state of Pennsylvania, the film All in Time is set to hit theatres this Fall. The plot follows a New York based banker who leaves his well-paying job to return to his hometown (Wilkes-Barre) to manage a rock band that was up and coming when he was younger but has fallen on some hard times. He then launches a unique concert idea which eventually leads to some success and a whole bunch of unexpected twists.

All in Time was written and directed by Chris Fetchko and Marina Donahue. The basic setting of the story is based on Fetchko’s own decision to leave his New York based career in 2002 and launch a music management firm to manage The Badlees along with several other artists. Music in the film is primarily provided by The Badlees (as the fictional band “The Damnsels”) and Laura Shay, another artist in Fetchko’s management group. Shay acts in the film along with two members of The Badlees (Pete Palladino and Ron Simasek) and a cast of professional actors including Sean Modica, Lynn Cohen, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Vanessa Ray and Josh Burrow.”

OCTOBER 7: The Girl on the Train (dir. Tate Taylor) (DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen)From the film’s official website: “Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez, Lisa Kudrow and Laura Prepon star in DreamWorks Pictures’ The Girl on the Train, from director Tate Taylor (The Help, Get on Up) and producer Marc Platt (Bridge of Spies, Into the Woods).

“In the thriller, Rachel (Blunt), who is devastated by her recent divorce, spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds.

“Based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling novel, The Girl on the Train is adapted for the screen by Erin Cressida Wilson.  The film’s executive producers are Jared LeBoff and Celia Costas, and it will be released by Universal Pictures.”

OCTOBER 7: The Lennon Report (dir. Jeremy Profe) (DP: Lisa Rinzler)From the film’s official website: “On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was shot outside of the Dakota apartment building in New York City. The Lennon Report follows the untold, true story of those who were part of his attempted rescue and witnesses to the human cost of tragedy.

“When Emergency Department Nurses Barbara Kammerer (Stef Dawson) and Deatra Sato (Ashley Atkinson) paged Dr. David Halleran (Evan Jonigkeit) about a John Doe shooting victim, they had no idea he would turn out to be the world’s biggest rock star. Alan Weiss (Walter Vincent), an ambitious young news producer awaiting treatment following a motorcycle accident, finds himself in a position to break the biggest story of his life.

“Dr. Halleran, with the help of surgeon Dr. Marks (Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella), attempts to resuscitate John Lennon. This dramatic surgery is done under the watchful eye of the Emergency Department Director, Dr. Lynn (Richard Kind). Alan Weiss ignores the orders of his doctor (Adrienne C. Moore) and struggles with Security Officer Medina (David Zayas) to break the story and tell the world what’s happened.

The Lennon Report assembles a stellar cast to tell the story of the real men and women who tried in vain to save the life of the world’s most famous musician the night he was gunned down outside the Dakota in New York City on December 8, 1980. For some, this movie is the first telling of their story, 36 years later.  For others, it sets the record straight. For all, it reveals the emotional toll the loss of this icon had on these individuals.”

OCTOBER 7: Newtown (dir. Kim A. Snyder)From the film’s official website: “Filmed over the course of nearly three years, the filmmakers use unique access and never before heard testimonies to tell a story of the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history on December 14, 2012. Newtown documents a traumatized community fractured by grief and driven toward a sense of purpose. Joining the ranks of a growing club to which no one wants to belong, a cast of characters interconnect to weave an intimate story of community resilience.”

OCTOBER 7 (NYC), OCTOBER 14 (LA): The Red Pill (dir. Cassie Jaye)From the film’s official website: “When feminist filmmaker Cassie Jaye sets out to document the mysterious and polarizing world of the Men’s Rights Movement, she begins to question her own beliefs. Jaye had only heard about the Men’s Rights Movement as being a misogynist hate-group aiming to turn back the clock on women’s rights, but when she spends a year filming the leaders and followers within the movement, she learns the various ways men are disadvantaged and discriminated against. The Red Pill challenges the audience to pull back the veil, question societal norms, and expose themselves to an alternate perspective on gender equality, power and privilege.”

OCTOBER 7: 13th (dir. Ava DuVernay) (DPs: Hans Charles and Kira Kelly)From a New York Times review by Manohla Dargis: “Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking. It shakes you up, but it also challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States, subject matter that could not sound less cinematic. Yet Ms. DuVernay — best known for Selma, and a filmmaker whose art has become increasingly inseparable from her activism — has made a movie that’s as timely as the latest Black Lives Matter protest and the approaching presidential election.

“The movie hinges on the 13th Amendment, as the title indicates, in ways that may be surprising, though less so for those familiar with Michelle Alexander’s 2010 best seller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Ratified in 1865, the amendment states in full: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.’ As Ms. Alexander underscores, slavery was abolished for everyone except criminals.

“In her book, Ms. Alexander (the most charismatic of the movie’s interviewees) argues that mass incarceration exists on a continuum with slavery and Jim Crow. As one of ‘the three major racialized systems of control adopted in the United States to date,’ it ensures ‘the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race.’ Under the old Jim Crow, state laws instituted different rules for blacks and whites, segregating them under the doctrine of separate but equal. Now, with the United States having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, a disproportionate number of whom are black, mass incarceration has become ‘metaphorically, the new Jim Crow.'”

“Written by Ms. DuVernay and Spencer Averick, 13th picks up Ms. Alexander’s baton and sprints through the history of American race and incarceration with seamless economy. (Mr. Averick also edited the movie.) In its first 30 minutes, the documentary touches on chattel slavery; D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation; Emmett Till; the civil rights movement; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Richard M. Nixon; and Ronald Reagan’s declaration of the war on drugs. By the time her movie ends, Ms. DuVernay has delivered a stirring treatise on the prison industrial complex through a nexus of racism, capitalism, policies and politics. It sounds exhausting, but it’s electrifying.

“…Ms. DuVernay isn’t the only American director to take on race and the prison industrial complex (Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In charts adjacent terrain), but hers is a powerful cinematic call to conscience, partly because of how she lays bare the soul of our country. Because, as she sifts through American history, you grasp the larger implications of her argument: The United States did not just criminalize a select group of black people. It criminalized black people as a whole, a process that, in addition to destroying untold lives, effectively transferred the guilt for slavery from the people who perpetuated it to the very people who suffered through it.”

OCTOBER 7: 37 (dir. Puk Grasten)LevelK ApS Film Sales synopsis:37 is inspired by a true story set in 1964, New York, where several neighbors witness the brutal murder and rape of Kitty Genovese and do not intervene. The New York Times published the article ’37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police.’ The Neighbors are depicted as monsters that used her 35 minute fight for survival as their own entertainment, but given the reality of that time period, it is much more multi-faceted and complex. 37 peeks into the lives of three disparate families, the lonely neighbor and the doorman. Kitty Genovese’s murder connects these disparate lives and simultaneously reveals a vast and startling disconnect between them. In 37 we connect with the neighbors and understand their decisions not to act by understanding their day-to-day struggles. Inside their apartments the neighbors are dealing with their personal lives and conflicts the same way as they deal with witnessing a murder; if we don’t see, hear or talk about it, then it didn’t happen. The adults, controlled by group mentality and fear of the unknown, teach the children throughout the film to look the other way. In consequence, it is the adults, and not the murder, which take the innocence away from the children. The children end up isolated and lonely, the harbingers of the modern society, while the adults hold on to the familiarity of the routine of the everyday life. The circle continues.”

OCTOBER 12: Tower (dir. Keith Maitland) (DPs: Keith Maitland and Sarah Wilson)Film Forum synopsis: “The morning of August 1, 1966, was bright and sunny at the University of Texas at Austin. Students chatted, strolled to class, and sipped coffee at the student union; a paperboy made his rounds on a bicycle with a pal on the handlebars. But then a sniper rode the elevator to the top of the UT Tower and opened fire. He held the campus hostage for 96 long, horrific minutes, and when the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll was 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a nation traumatized by the first mass school shooting in history. Combining archival footage, hypnotic rotoscopic animation, and contemporary interviews with witnesses, Tower vividly recreates the terrifying event and reveals untold stories of unlikely heroes and victims. All too familiar today, this massacre was unthinkable in mid-1960s America. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 2016 South by Southwest Festival.”

OCTOBER 14: Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis/review by Andréa Picard: “Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves) directs Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone in this tripartite portrait of striving, independent women whose lives intersect in suggestive and powerful ways.

“The latest film from Kelly Reichardt not only confirms the writer-director-editor as one of today’s leading filmmakers, but an extraordinary director of actors. Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collection Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, Certain Women is a tripartite portrait of striving, independent women whose lives intersect in suggestive and powerful ways. Gutsily eschewing narrative closure, Reichardt connects her characters less through plot than through place and various illustrations of one of the film’s main themes: deferred desire.

“Shot against the stunning backdrop of Montana’s mountains and pastoral, big-skied landscapes in ravishing 16mm, Reichardt’s film adopts an episodic structure as it abruptly drops us into the lives of four strong women, who are all living intensely yet evince a certain loneliness and longing as they endeavour to understand and shape the world around them. Laura (Laura Dern) is an overworked, no-nonsense lawyer battling office sexism who is thrust into a hostage situation by a disgruntled client who feels unjustly served by his worker’s compensation claim. Gina (Reichardt regular Michelle Williams) is an ambitious wife and mother building a new home with her husband, with whom tensions arise over their disparate approaches to the project. Newcomer Lily Gladstone is quietly wrenching as a small-town ranch hand who develops an endearing attachment to the harried lawyer (Kristen Stewart, fidgety and formidable) who teaches her biweekly adult education classes.

“Supremely elegant and fiercely intelligent, the deceptively small-scale vignettes in Certain Women combine to create a canvas of vast terrain and small yet meaningful gestures, of quiet yearning and subtle catharsis. With the help of her magnificent cast, Reichardt has created a masterful, profoundly empathetic film about the everyday disappointments and minor victories that make up one’s existence — a film that reveals these certain women as both painfully vulnerable and unfathomably resilient in the face of life’s many uncertainties.”

OCTOBER 14 (NYC), NOVEMBER 4 (LA): The David Dance (dir. Aprill Winney)From the film’s official website: “Away from the microphone, David is soft spoken, shy and unsure of himself. However, as his on-air alias, ‘Danger Dave’ – host of the local radio show ‘Gay Talk’ in Buffalo, New York – he’s poised, witty and every listener’s best friend. His sister, Kate, is a thrice divorced banker with a yen for classical music and cats. Though successful, the siblings suffer from a secret, yet vast sense of inadequacy. Kate decides to adopt an orphan in Brazil and asks David to be a father figure. Meanwhile, David grapples with his self-doubts while gawkily romancing his co-worker. Past and present intertwine in this bittersweet winter’s tale of a man learning to love and accept himself.”

OCTOBER 14: Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (dirs. Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn-Whack)Human Rights Arts & Film Festival synopsis: “Dr. Maya Angelou’s legendary writings including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Phenomenal Woman and On the Pulse of Morning are merely a few examples of how words can truly change the world. Although she is most well noted for her poetry, Maya Angelou and Still I Rise celebrates her multiple talents including singing, dancing, filmmaking, academia and civil rights activism, how she inspired generations, pushed boundaries and never ceased in her long fight for freedom for all. Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn-Whack’s extraordinary film seamlessly weaves the key messages of her poetry into the narrative of her life with rare archival footage, interviews and of course, recitals of her original works. Powerful, proud and prolific, Angelou’s story is one of true courage and creativity of a woman who fought for her beliefs and lived life to the fullest.”

OCTOBER 14 (NYC) (it opened on SEPTEMBER 23 in LA): 100 Years (dir. Melinda Janko)From the film’s official website: “When Elouise Cobell, a petite Blackfeet warrior from Montana, started asking questions about missing money from government managed Indian Trust accounts, she never imagined that one day she would be taking on the world’s most powerful government. But what she discovered as the Treasurer of her tribe was a trail of fraud and corruption leading all the way from Montana to Washington DC. 100 Years is the story of her 30-year fight for justice for 300,000 Native Americans whose mineral rich lands were grossly mismanaged by the United States Government. In 1996, Cobell filed the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the federal government. For fifteen long years, and through three Presidential administrations, Elouise Cobell’s unrelenting spirit never quit. This is the compelling true story of how she prevailed.”

OCTOBER 21: It Had to Be You (dir. Sasha Gordon)From the film’s official website: “Sonia (Cristin Milioti) is a neurotic jingle writer who’s always dreamt of a big and exciting life. Surprised by a sudden proposal and subsequent ultimatum from her easy-going boyfriend, Chris (Dan Soder), Sonia has to decide whether she’ll join the ranks of her married friends or take a leap and pursue her fantasies. A whimsical romantic comedy that’s raunchy and yet gentle, It Had to Be You explores the choices women face today while satirizing cultural expectations of gender and romance.”

OCTOBER 21: The Uncondemned (dirs. Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel)Chicago Reader synopsis: “During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an estimated 800,000 people—mostly Tutsis—were massacred in just 100 days by the Hutus (the majority ethnic group). Three years later a United Nations-backed international tribunal in Tanzania sought the first-ever conviction of genocide as a legally defined crime when it tried Jean-Paul Akayesu for atrocities he condoned or perpetrated while he was mayor of Taba, a Rwandan commune. In their eye-opening documentary, directors Nick Louvel and Michele Mitchell reveal how the young, idealistic prosecutors, already overextended, uncovered evidence of the systematic violation, torture, mutilation, and enslavement of women in Taba; they soon after amended their case to add rape to Akayesu’s list of crimes against humanity. Interviewees include three resolute female survivors of the ethnic cleansing, who testified at great risk.”

(Note: Co-director Nick Louvel passed away after a car accident last year.)

OCTOBER 21: The Whole Truth (dir. Courtney Hunt)FilmNation Entertainment synopsis: “Defending a client in a murder trial is already intense; but for lawyer Richard Ramsay (Keanu Reeves), the stakes are even higher. His client is young Mike Lassiter (Gabriel Basso), a 17-year old accused of murdering his father, Boone (Jim Belushi). Ramsay has been friendly with the Lassiter family for years, and has sworn to widow Loretta (Renée Zellweger) that he will keep Mike out of prison.

“The problem is that Mike hasn’t said a word since the murder, except to initially confess that he was the one who stabbed his father. Ramsay is a shrewd lawyer, but knows that until his client chooses to speak – even if just to Ramsay himself – he doesn’t have much of a chance.

“At Ramsey’s side is a new colleague, Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who seems to have an unerring knack for seeing through a witness’ lies. As the lawyers play a delicate chess game and manage to get new revelations to come to light – including evidence about just the kind of man that Boone Lassiter was – Ramsay utilizes every scheme in the book to get his client acquitted, while Janelle begins to realize that the whole truth is something that perhaps no one but she will ever recognize.”

OCTOBER 26: Portrait of a Garden (dir./DP: Rosie Stapel)Film Forum synopsis: “The oldest and most beautiful ‘kitchen garden’ in the Netherlands belongs to an estate that dates backs to 1630. Today it is owned by Daan van der Have, who cares for it meticulously, with 85-year-old pruning master Jan Freriks. Rosie Stapel’s debut feature records their passionate oversight of the innumerable vegetables and flowering trees to which they are devoted. The two are marvelous company, whether shaping a black mulberry espalier (the rules for which date back to King Louis XIV), debating the proper care for bear’s garlic, fennel, spring green cabbage, beetroot or Japanese wine berry, or contemplating their 15-year wait for the pear trees on both sides of an arbor to grow into a perfect semi-circle. They console themselves that ‘banking will diminish due to automation, but thinning our plums is here to stay.’ Their connoisseurship, depth of knowledge (extending back generations), and exacting care, bear beautiful fruit – and an elegant, meditative film.”

OCTOBER 28: By Sidney Lumet (dir. Nancy Buirski)From a Hollywood Reporter review by David Rooney: “How fitting that By Sidney Lumet, documentary maker Nancy Buirski’s engrossing career chronicle of the prolific director, begins with a clip from 12 Angry Men in which Henry Fonda’s reasonable doubt over the case being argued makes him the lone holdout of the dozen jurors. Built around an exhaustive video interview with Lumet recorded three years before his death in 2011, the film provides a detailed survey of his work. It also sheds light on the profoundly moral and inherently democratic sensibility that shaped his output, in which questions of justice and fairness provide a thematic bedrock, albeit one that Lumet claims was formed more by accident than design.

“Having the film’s subject be the sole commentator on his artistic achievements might yield a narrow perspective in most cases. But the honesty that characterized Lumet’s most enduring films also applies here to his candid assessment of himself and his screen legacy. Humility is perhaps the wrong word for someone fully aware of having produced a considerable volume of important work. But the absence of self-congratulation, and the detached objectivity of his analysis are refreshing.

“Whether it’s the early works that followed his emergence from live television; the celebrated titles that helped define the gritty social consciousness of so much American cinema of the 1970s, like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network; the critical and commercial failures like Daniel; or the underappreciated treasures like Running on Empty, the abundance of clips here are deftly chosen and play remarkably well out of context.”

OCTOBER 28: I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (dir. Osgood “Oz” Perkins) (DP: Julie Kirkwood)From an LA Weekly review by April Wolfe: “Writer-director Osgood Perkins has been peeking at my Shirley Jackson book collection, and he’s already read through my favorites: The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. His sophomore feature, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, is a magical amalgam of these novels, something like the most atmospherically faithful adaptation ever of a Jackson book that never existed. No time is wasted getting fated hospice nurse Lily (Ruth Wilson) into a specter-ridden old Massachusetts home, where she tells us in voice-over that she’s 28 years old and will not reach the age of 29. But if you’ve read any Jackson novels, you know that’s not really a giveaway — what is really frightening is the how, the slow, circular fall into quiet madness.

“The how of I Am the Pretty Thing… is so chilling, so purely artistic, that I found myself scribbling four full pages of notes to remember my thoughts in the darkened theater. This is not a movie of gore or plot. Instead, voice-over in lyrically written prose from the nurse guides viewers on a meditation through the haunted house, while we watch her fix the carpet that’s always somehow folding over (even though she’s the only one who’s walking around), or run her finger over a bubble under the whitewashed walls of the pristine colonial home of her new patient, elderly horror novelist Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). The bubble begins to rot, infecting the panels with a bloom of black mold — the devil is in the details, here.

“…Cinematographer Julie Kirkwood oscillates between deep and shallow depth of field, in the case of the latter blanketing much of the frame in a hazy blur, never racking focus to find the subject. Descending the stairs, Lily glides at a snail’s pace into clarity — Kirkwood lets the actress come to her. Odd low angles also prove effective. The camera does not move up or down; it’s either peering upward or downward while stationary, or panning molasses-slow from left to right, which takes enormous skill and patience for a cam operator and leaves the impression that every scene is a smeared memory.

“All the action takes place inside this house, like a sealed coffin. The windows are closed, but not tight enough to lock out the overwhelming chirping of insects, like a thrumming pulse that only grows louder, harsher, as time wears on, pattering rain replacing the crickets. The house and costumes are all tones of white and goldenrod, clean and bright contrasting with the black spore infection. There are no heavy shadows, mostly just light and dark, so when Lily peers from the lighted hallway to a gauzy-black room beyond, it’s difficult to tell if she’s actually seeing a ghost or conjuring her from her imagination. And in this film, the framing is such that there is nearly always a darkened room just beyond the lighted one.

“There’s an atmosphere of moisture, of never feeling dry or right or uncomfortable, even when everything on the screen is seemingly beautiful. It’s no coincidence that Perkins’ father is Anthony Perkins of Psycho fame (and so many other less commercially successful but art-house–worshiped movies), because there are easily shades of his father’s subtly chilling yet undeniably endearing performances in this film. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House is the very best of Gothic horror, that which needles at your insecure core and whispers in your ear what you already suspected: You will never be all right.”

2016: Part 2

Chicken People. Directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes. Notes from September 26: This delightful and informative documentary about the world of Americans who raise “show chickens” for competitions is sure to captivate you. Even if you don’t know anything about the animals in question, you will immediately love the birds which come in so many breeds and varieties. It is obvious that the human protagonists – the film focuses on three in particular, Brian Caraker (who is also a talented jazz/show tunes singer), Brian Knox and Shari McCollough – have lasting bonds with the feathered friends who give unconditional, nonjudgmental love to their somewhat eccentric caretakers. Director Nicole Lucas Haimes, cinematographer Martina Radwan, editors Sara Booth and Kevin Klauber and composer Michael Hearst have created a warm, sympathetic portrait of their unusual but lovable subjects, making Chicken People my favorite film of the year so far.

Ghostbusters. Directed by Paul Feig. Notes from September 13: OK, so I finally saw the Ghostbusters reboot, two months after everyone else did. I probably made a critical error by not seeing it in 3D, but what’s done is done and all I can do is review the 2D version. Simply put: it’s boring. There was so much potential for fun and most of it went down the drain, which is a shame because I root so hard for Leslie Jones to succeed, Kate McKinnon is currently the funniest cast member on SNL, Melissa McCarthy was great in Paul Feig’s last film (Spy, which is hilarious all the way through) and Kristen Wiig is growing on me (I usually hated her over-the-top stuff on SNL, but she’s a good actress when she’s not doing a zany comic character). It’s sad for me to say, though, that the funniest person in Ghostbusters was probably Chris Hemsworth, who plays the bimbo secretary, Kevin, almost faultlessly. (My only real criticism is that his Australian accent occasionally made the dialogue difficult to understand.) I wish that the script, written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, had been stronger and a lot funnier; the four stars deserve so much better. I’m sure the 3D effects would have made certain scenes a lot more enjoyable, but I can’t do more than lament my having missed out. We also don’t really know anything about the film’s villain, played by Neil Casey. At least I experienced one true morsel of joy: the opening scenes with my favorite weird-funny-guy, Zach Woods, as the museum tour guide who has a spectral encounter. Sure, he’s no Alice Drummond (she played the NYPL librarian back in ‘84), but then again, who is?

One More Time with Feeling. Directed by Andrew Dominik. Notes from September 9: This one-of-a-kind, mostly black-and-white (except for one color sequence) documentary accompanying the release of the new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album, Skeleton Tree (available as of midnight on Friday, September 9), was an absorbing experience for everyone who sat in the theater at the IFC Center at the 9:00 pm screening on September 8. I assume that everyone in the audience was a devoted fan of Nick Cave – given that it was a show that sold out months ago, I have to assume that everyone was there because they really wanted to be – and so we all knew that the key influence on the look and feel of the film, including the music, was the death of Cave’s teenage son, Arthur, last summer. (Arthur’s twin brother, Earl, and Cave’s wife, Susie, appear in the film.) It feels a bit mean-spirited to criticize the film too much – it all comes from a real place, observing the introspective nature of Cave, his family and his music while also capturing occasional glimpses of warmth. So while I consider 20,000 Days on Earth more successful for a filmmaking standpoint, particularly in its use of a somewhat scripted narrative to depict Nick Cave’s “reality,” the improvisational quality of One More Time is much more intimate, ultimately leading to a heartbreaking gut-punch of a finale as the album’s final track, “Skeleton Tree,” segues into one last choice of song for the soundtrack (which I won’t give away here). I haven’t yet had time to sit down and listen to the Skeleton Tree album through headphones, but because of how memorable the film experience was, some of those featured songs are still resonating through my head even after the first listen. If you love Nick Cave and you have a chance to go to an encore screening of One More Time with Feeling that is planned for select theaters worldwide on December 1.

P.S. About twenty minutes before the end, the film stopped and we had to wait a few minutes before it could resume. I think we missed a music scene, but I can’t totally remember. Oh well, maybe when the film is available on DVD…

P.P.S. Interestingly, the friend who went to the movie with me chose to take her 3D glasses off early on; she found the use of that technology distracting. Personally I liked the 3D, which is incorporated less for a “popping out of the screen” effect than for a sense of depth and dimension within the shots, usually to sharpen the focus on Nick Cave while many other elements in the frame are blurred.

Additional Notes from Later on September 9: One thing I didn’t discuss in my review of One More Time with Feeling – this is a subjective element which isn’t physically a part of the film itself, so I wasn’t sure that it was completely germane to my cinematic analysis – was that while I was watching the film, I kept thinking about the Sick Bag Song reading I went to at the Alliance Française’s Florence Gould Hall in April 2015. (The friend who accompanied me to One More Time last night was also with me for this earlier event.) Seeing Nick Cave live for the first time, despite being in a non-musical setting, was such an extraordinary thing. But what was even more significant, in retrospect, was that both Arthur and Earl Cave were in attendance.

There was a moment, either during the moderated discussion with Nick or at some point during the Q&A portion, when Nick pointed out that his two young sons were in the audience. Naturally we all turned around to see them, but given how big/dim-lit the auditorium was, the fact that the boys were standing in the back (I think) and that I was sitting pretty close to the front of the theater, all meant that I couldn’t actually see them. And yet, they were there. I wondered if they had ever been to New York before or if this was their first trip, and how exciting that must be.

So as I was watching One More Time with Feeling, I thought about how you can feel a person’s presence in a space. Even when you can’t see the person, somehow you know they are there, either because you have heard so (like at Florence Gould Hall) or because, in the case of this film, the person’s spirit and memory are very much a part of what is happening in the here and now.

Snowden. Directed by Oliver Stone. Notes from October 1: I don’t feel the least bit guilty about using a coupon to get an almost free ticket (there was a $1.50 fee) to watch Snowden at the Regal multiplex in Union Square; many filmmakers deserve my support, but Oliver Stone is not one of them. Given that I have not yet seen Laura Poitras‘s Oscar-winning documentary about Edward Snowden, Citizenfour (2014), I could not compare her work with Oliver Stone’s; perhaps that allowed me to like Snowden better than I otherwise would have. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a solid, committed portrayal of Edward Snowden, even with his distractingly mannered way of speaking, so that made the film very easy to get into and enjoy. The problem, though, is Stone’s dated approach to storytelling, making the narrative more concerned with Snowden’s relationship woes (Shailene Woodley does the best she can as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay) than with the issue of the intel being shared. Stone never bothers to explain why Snowden chose Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) and Janine Gibson (Joely Richardson) as the journalists he decided to trust with his information; at least we are told that Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) is a filmmaker admired by Snowden. Most of the supporting performances are merely adequate, although the Regal theater audience certainly got a kick out of seeing Nicolas Cage as one of Snowden’s CIA mentors. I don’t know what to make of Rhys Ifans as Snowden’s first teacher at the CIA, though; the work is equal parts unsettling and weirdly hammy, including a scene where he spends the entire time mugging for the camera in a bizarre close-up during a video conference call with Snowden. (View at your own discretion.) The most bizarre part is that when the film closes with a scene showing the real Edward Snowden in his Moscow exile, that appearance by a non-actor is so compelling that you’ll wish you had watched the man himself in Citizenfour instead.

P.S. During the packed screening I went to, the couple sitting to my left never stopped talking (including talking on a cell phone during the end credits), the elderly couple in front of me also gabbed quite a bit and a guy sitting somewhere on the right side of the theater let out the loudest burp I have ever heard in my life (something he seemed to be inordinately proud of).

P.P.S. This IMDb user’s observation on a message board sums up the strangeness of Nicolas Cage in Snowden: “Nicholas [sic] Cage’s role seemed to resemble his career: the once A-lister, critically acclaimed actor/leading man, now playing a guy who was a star of innovation, relegated to an obscure museum of sorts at a training academy. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.“

Triple 9. Directed by John Hillcoat. Notes from September 17: The intersecting dramas of several corrupt Atlanta policemen and a vicious Russian-Jewish mob boss are brought to confusing life in this disappointing spectacle from the director of such recent films as The Proposition, The Road and Lawless. There is never sufficient time spent with the huge number of actors in the cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet (as the ruthless, Star of David-wearing mafia queenpin), Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Clifton Collins Jr. (probably my favorite performer in the film, quietly committed to an underwritten role that he breathes life into), Michelle Ang, Terri Abney, Luis Da Silva Jr. There is some occasionally excellent cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis (especially in indoor club or restaurant scenes) and some typically good editing by Dylan Tichenor, but the crime/heist content is never satisfyingly exciting (it’s certainly nothing new) and you get the feeling that all of these worthy performers are being sadly wasted. It is also exceedingly frustrating that our “hero,” Casey Affleck, has no personality, seems to be chewing gum annoyingly in every scene and he gives the viewer an impression of being particularly dumb for a cop. Aaron Paul deserves some points, though, for having a hair/eyeliner situation that makes him look and sound like a hillbilly goth.

Star Trek Into Fandom: The Movies

For my final post commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek” this month, here are twenty-one of my favorite scenes from the six films featuring the original show’s cast (often identified as “TOS,” 1979-1991) and the three films featuring the “alternate” original-series cast (aka “AOS,” 2009-present).

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Disco Bones. I don’t believe there has ever been a satisfactory explanation (other than the time when the film was made, of course) as to why Bones (Dr. McCoy) has a beard and is wearing disco-friendly attire when he first appears in TMP. Whatever the reason, DeForest Kelley somehow managed not to look nearly as ridiculous as he might have.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): Spock’s Arrival. I’m not sure if I have ever loved a Vulcan outfit more than the one Spock wore when he returned to the Enterprise after many years of being away from active duty. (The iciness in Spock’s demeanor is due to a long time spent on his home planet, purging himself of emotions.)

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979): This Simple Feeling. Anyone who has watched this scene and not felt even a slight bit emotional clearly does not love Kirk or Spock nearly enough. Kudos to Nimoy and Shatner for carrying the scene so beautifully.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): KHAAAAAN. Ah, yes, Captain Kirk’s infamous scream.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): Best Friends Forever. Tears, tears and more tears.

Star Trek III: The Search of Spock (1984): Stealing Their Own Ship. The crew works together to steal the Enterprise away from their own space station and embark on a mission back to the Genesis planet (from Star Trek II, where Spock’s “dead” body was left) and then onward to Vulcan, where Spock’s soul can be rejuvenated. The best part of this scene: Uhura finally contributes more than just being a glorified receptionist.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984): McCoy’s Greatest Moment. If I had to pick a single scene from either the original TV show or any of the original cast’s movies that had DeForest Kelley’s finest acting as Dr. McCoy, it would be the first scene from this clip. As the Enterprise brings Spock to Vulcan to rejoin the body with the mind (currently encased for safekeeping inside McCoy’s head – it all has to do with the events from the end of Wrath of Khan), McCoy displays true tenderness. Below the veneer of frustration, the good doctor really does care for his comrade. I hope that Leonard Nimoy was proud of his work as a director here.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Taking Care of Business. Leonard Nimoy continued his top-notch track record as a director with Star Trek IV. Clad in an 80s headband and stuck on a bus with Captain Kirk (they time-traveled back to 1986… don’t ask), Spock knows exactly how to take care of a punk fool. This scene also takes pains to note that Kirk is well-acquainted with classic literature. Good times.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Not the Hell Your Whales. There are too many terrific things happening in this video to properly explain them all. This, my friends, is my favorite “Star Trek” movie by a mile.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Hello, Computer. Scotty, the dear old sweetheart of the Enterprise, displays his A+ knowledge of archaic technology.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986): Star Trek via the Keystone Kops. The gang must work together to break Chekov out of a 20th century hospital. Fun times abound.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Camping Fun. Never forget the “Star Trek” movie that William Shatner co-wrote and directed. Mountain climbing (gloriously explained and remixed here)… jet-powered boots… “marsh melons”… McCoy’s last line in the second video. All so superb.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989): Adorable Things. Apparently it was Shatner’s prerogative to make sure that Kirk/Spock really was a part of the canon.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991): The Final Farewell. I can’t imagine a better ending for our beloved Enterprise crew, right down to Captain Kirk’s ongoing sense of wonder and joy at exploring the universe (the Peter Pan quote “…and straight on ’til morning”) and the extra special touch during the last minute.

Star Trek (2009): First Meeting. I like how the first of the reboots sets up Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) first – and rather negative – encounter at Starfleet. Bonus: Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, doing the role justice.

Star Trek (2009): Chekov at His Best. I know everyone loved Anton Yelchin’s interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov, and this is one of the character’s nicest showcases.

Star Trek (2009): Spock Meets Spock. In the first film of the rebooted series, the undeniable high point was getting to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his role as our beloved Spock. Obviously that’s kind of strange, but somehow – because I still don’t totally understand the time-space mechanics of this – Zachary Quinto’s Spock is able to coexist in the same universe as the elder “Spock Prime.”

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Respecting the Chair. The newest entries in the “Star Trek” franchise continue the tradition of employing excellent character actors; Bruce Greenwood, as Captain Christopher Pike, is no exception. (If you’ve been watching TV this year, you may have seen Greenwood play Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti on FX’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.”)

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): Wrath of Khan Redux. I have a lot of problems with this film from the rebooted series – not the least of which is the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, of all people, as the character Khan Noonien Singh – but I did love the homage to the famous ending from Star Trek II. In this case, there is a twist: it is Kirk who absorbs a potentially fatal amount of radiation and Spock who reacts so emotionally to the impending loss of his friend.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Survival. I love the way the AOS “Star Trek” movies depict Spock’s and McCoy’s contentious bond. This scene is yet another enjoyable example.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Meeting Jaylah. One of the benefits of Simon Pegg co-writing Beyond’s screenplay is that he was able to incorporate a new, strong woman (or, more accurately, female alien) character, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella). She is a warrior who also has a sensitive side and she delivers some of the film’s best (and occasionally funniest) lines. Moving forward in this series, I hope that Jaylah returns and that she and Uhura continue to be multifaceted characters.

Star Trek Into Fandom: Some Favorite Scenes

Photo courtesy of They Boldly Went: “DeForest Kelley, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy pretend that hand phasers are electric shavers while filming ‘Operation: Annihilate!’ on the TRW Campus in Redondo Beach, CA.”

As I continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of “Star Trek,” here are some golden moments from many of my favorite episodes from the TV series. As soon as I have finished watching the six movies starring the show’s original cast, I shall have a new post ready with more superb clips.

We begin with the beloved catchphrase of Dr. Leonard McCoy, better known as Bones: “I’m a doctor, not a [insert other profession/object].”

“Charlie X” [S1 E2] – There are some rooms on the Starship Enterprise which we only saw once or twice; one such place is the exercise area, in which Captain Kirk attempts to show a confused teenage passenger, Charlie (played by Robert Walker, Jr.), how to work off his teen angst with some martial arts-lite moves. Kirk’s training tips are not particularly helpful, but it’s an awful lot of fun watching William Shatner roll around wearing what appear to be several layers of Spanx.

“The Naked Time” [S1 E4] – The crew is overwhelmed by an unknown germ which strips them of their inhibitions, like a kind of extraterrestrial alcohol. Sulu believes he is a dashing swordsman – while pursuing Uhura, he makes the mistake of calling her a “fair maiden,” to which she replies, “sorry, neither!” – and Spock’s surge of emotion causes a plethora of problems when he interacts with Captain Kirk.

“The Corbomite Maneuver” [S1 E8]But first, the tranya. The Enterprise is held in the orbital grip of a frighteningly powerful planet, which appears to be ruled by a grotesque entity (described in one fan’s review as “Nosferatu lying on the bottom of a swimming pool”). The mysterious alien scares the living bejesus out of everyone – or maybe just me – for the entire episode but when Kirk finally beams over to the planet, it turns out that the supreme being he saw was merely a puppet (albeit a very creepy one) and the actual leader is an adult who looks like a small child… played by seven-year-old Clint Howard (Ron’s younger brother).

“Shore Leave” [S1 E15] – Oh, McCoy, you old rascal. Flirtation is usually Captain Kirk’s department, but in this episode our favorite country doctor gets to stroll through a meadow with a lovely young shipmate, Yeoman Tonia Barrows (Emily Banks).

“This Side of Paradise” [S1 E24] – A trip to a utopian colony, which is covered in flowers that spurt magical pollen, allows Spock to feel emotion and fall in love with Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland). Truly, the joys of seeing Spock grinning as he hangs from a tree like a sloth are boundless. In the end, however, he realizes that he must revert to his stoic Vulcan ways and return to the Enterprise. Spock’s recovery from emotion is heartbreaking to watch, culminating in a tearful goodbye between him and Leila. The dialogue by scriptwriter Dorothy (“D.C.”) Fontana’s gives us one of Spock’s best lines: “If there are self-made purgatories – and we all have to live in them – mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”

“The Devil in the Dark” [S1 E25] – An underground mining colony is terrorized by a monster which resembles an old pizza on top of a pile of meatballs. Our favorite Vulcan does a mind-meld with the creature, which we learn is called a Horta. Leonard Nimoy praised the episode, saying that “it was about the way we tend to demonize the things that we don’t know or understand or the people that we don’t know or understand.” And, as we learn at the episode’s end, the Horta also has impeccable taste.

“The City on the Edge of Forever” [S1 E28] – Often cited as the all-time greatest “Star Trek” episode, “City” has a plot that would take me far too long to explain, but there are two things which are clear: 1) Spock wears a terrific hat to hide his ears, and 2) the ending – in which Kirk must sacrifice the woman he loves, Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), because whether she lives or dies in 1930 will alter the rest of human history – is one of the saddest of the show’s run.

“Operation — Annihilate!” [S1 E29] – Attack of the flying latkes!

“I, Mudd” [S2 E8] – For sheer comic craziness, no episode can ever top “I, Mudd.” Captain Kirk and his crew outwit a bunch of androids by acting bizarrely; the illogical actions promptly fry the robots’ brains. I guess that the Academy offered improv classes in addition to all the other Starfleet requirements.

“Wolf in the Fold” [S2 E14] – Captain Kirk should probably know better than to invite Spock to a weird outer space nightclub.

“The Trouble with Tribbles” [S2 E15] – Here we witness one of William Shatner’s most memorable moments on the “Star Trek”: Captain Kirk mired in a swamp of little Tribbles, a number of the fuzzy beasties being thrown directly at Shatner’s head by the show’s crew.

“A Piece of the Action” [S2 E17] – On the fly, Captain Kirk (stuck with Spock and Dr. McCoy in a world modeled on 1920s Chicago) improvises a card game to distract his captors: “Fizzbin.” My personal favorite touch in this gem of a scene: when Kirk explains the astronomical odds of getting a “Royal Fizzbin” hand, Spock nods and mouths “astronomical” in agreement.

“Return to Tomorrow” [S2 E20] – Ancient alien consciousnesses want to inhabit the “receptacle” bodies of Kirk, Spock and Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) so that the long-dormant beings may live again? Sure, what harm could there be in that? William Shatner does some wonderfully strange/hammy gesticulating when one of the entities, Sargon, occupies his mind for the first time; later, Shatner delivers one of Captain Kirk’s greatest monologues when he reminds his shipmates of the crucial scientific and philosophical imperatives which give meaning to the Enterprise’s intergalactic explorations.

P.S. Fun fact: Sargon is voiced by James “Scotty” Doohan (minus the Aberdeen burr, obviously).

“Patterns of Force” [S2 E21] – Surely the “Nazis in Space” episode, one of the weirdest concepts of the series, deserves an extra commendation for being the only episode of the series in which Spock appears shirtless. (Not to be outdone, Captain Kirk’s always-waxed upper half appears sans clothing in the same scenes.)

“By Any Other Name” [S2 E22] – Scotty is one of my favorite characters; I just adore James Doohan. One of Scotty’s finest showcases is in this episode from the tail end of season two, in which he does his best to weaken an alien intruder by getting him super drunk. Bonus – some delightful decor: the kilt and bagpipes on display in Scotty’s quarters.

“Requiem for Methuselah” [S3 E19] – Where did Spock learn to play the piano? Surely such an endeavor would not be a normal activity on Vulcan since the performance of music requires the engagement of emotion. In any case, apparently Spock is well-versed in Brahms.

“The Way to Eden” [S3 E20] – This is a much-maligned episode (who in their right mind would want to see Captain Kirk deal with space hippies?), but I have a real weakness for its goofy musical scenes. Charles Napier, as an enthusiastic peace-seeker named Adam, leads an embarrassing anthem for his group, but the true joy comes later when Spock joins in with some tuneage from his Vulcan lyre. Far out, man.

Star Trek Into Fandom: The Costumes

I recently started and finished watching the entire original series of “Star Trek” (three seasons, 1966-1969). One of the most striking elements of the show’s design was its use of costumes, all of which were designed by William Ware Theiss, who later designed costumes for such films as Harold and Maude (1971), Bound for Glory (1976), Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), Goin’ South (1978) and Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979). This post honors seventeen of Theiss’ most inspired (and in many cases, most revealing) creations.

“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” [S1 E7] – Sherry Jackson, playing an android named Andrea, wears a rather flimsy set of overalls, while Ted Cassidy, as a menacing android named Ruk, wears what looks like a glued-together pile of random weird fabrics. I also like the boilersuit (if that’s the right terminology) worn by Dr. Korby (Michael Strong).

“Shore Leave” [S1 E15] – When the crew of the Enterprise makes the mistake of taking shore leave on a planet which is basically just a gigantic amusement park, Dr. McCoy’s “death” is resolved at the episode’s end by having merely been an illusion, like all the other bizarre events that happened; when he returns to his astonished crew, McCoy is accompanied by two Vegas-looking showgirls he fondly remembered from a past rendezvous.

“The Return of the Archons” [S1 E21] – Members of the Enterprise’s crew beam down to a world that appears to be modeled on the US circa the late 1800s, and before doing so, the crew members all don excellent, period-appropriate attire. My personal favorite look is Spock’s cloak, which would look unusual in most any era.

“A Taste of Armageddon” [S1 E23] – Dig some of these crazy outfits! I love whenever Theiss had to design hats for the guest actors.

“Amok Time” [S2 E1] – One of the all-time classic episodes of the original series, “Amok Time” features Spock in the throes of pon farr, the Vulcan mating cycle that occurs once every seven years. He and the Enterprise crew travel back to his home planet, also called Vulcan, where Spock expects to wed the bride chosen for him during childhood, T’Pring (Arlene Martel, who in 1961 had guest-starred as the morgue nurse with the catchphrase “Room for one more, honey!” in one of my favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes, “Twenty Two”). This scene shows T’Pring and also the leader of the Vulcans, T’Pau (veteran character actress Celia Lovsky). Naturally, complications ensue when T’Pring decides that a simple wedding is not enough and instead she would rather see Spock and Kirk engage in a fight to the death. Needless to say, all of the costumes are terrific.

“Who Mourns for Adonais?” [S2 E2] – Apollo (Michael Forest) uses his powers to dress Lt. Carolyn Palamas (Leslie Parrish) in a gown befitting Aphrodite, an outfit which is held up only by the weight of the train draped over the lieutenant’s shoulder. I only wish that this clip displayed the rich color and sparkle of the costume, which you can see in its perfection on the remastered DVD of the show, as well as the amount of leg visible on both sides of the skirt.

“Mirror, Mirror” [S2 E4] – How you know that Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty and Lt. Uhura have been transported to an parallel-universe version of the Enterprise: a) there are even skimpier costumes (nice abs, Nichelle Nichols!), b) everyone on the ship does Naziesque salutes and c) Mirror Universe Spock has a Beard of Evil.

“Journey to Babel” [S2 E10] – During a diplomatic mission in which the Enterprise carries ambassadors from many different worlds – including Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), and Spock’s human mother, Amanda (Jane Wyatt) – to a peace conference, you get to see the ship’s top-ranking officers in the jackets required for special occasions such as this one, as well as the diverse set of costumes worn by the plethora of life forms inhabiting the Enterprise during the voyage.

“Friday’s Child” [S2 E11] – These are truly both the funniest and the ugliest costumes that any guest villains had to wear on “Star Trek.” Get a look at those ponytails! Bonus: Julie Newmar as that week’s damsel in distress.

“A Piece of the Action” [S2 E17] – Kirk and Spock in 1920s-era suits and fedoras! I’ll bet these costumes were half the reason why this episode, set on a planet that believes in Prohibition-era Chicago as the ideal model for their society, was put into production in the first place.

“Assignment: Earth” [S2 E26] – The final episode of season two was also essentially a pilot for a show (of the same name) that Gene Roddenberry was hoping to launch; it didn’t happen, so instead we’re stuck with these weird “Star Trek” episode that focuses more on a Doctor Who-type character (played by Robert Lansing) and his companion (Teri Garr) than on Kirk, Spock or anything else happening on the Enterprise. Kirk and Spock (the latter of whom has a hat to hide his Vulcan ears) wear some great 1968-era outfits, though, and Teri Garr’s kind of psychedelic outfit is cute.

Warning: this clip contains strobe effects and many bright, flashing lights.

“Is There in Truth No Beauty?” [S3 E5] – Diana Muldaur is one of my favorite actresses who appeared on “Star Trek”; not only am I partial to her since she was born in Brooklyn, but she also holds the distinction of being one of the few guest stars to play multiple characters in multiple episodes. Each of Diana Muldaur’s characters was an intelligent, high-ranking woman working either in Starfleet or elsewhere in the Federation; in season two episode “Return to Tomorrow” she played Dr. Ann Mulhall, a science officer (described as an “astrobiologist”) newly assigned to the Enterprise during that episode, and in “Is There No Beauty?” she plays Dr. Miranda Jones, assistant to the Medusan ambassador Kollos. I used a clip from the latter episode because Muldaur’s Dr. Jones has a fantastic upswept hairdo and she wears many beautiful gowns – besides this one (seen here in full length), there is a blue gown and also a black gown that looks incredible in motion – and all of the outfits are covered in “sensor webs” to aid her since she is blind (though the other characters don’t realize it until near the end of the episode).

P.S. Diana Muldaur’s “Star Trek” career continued twenty years later when she had a recurring role as Dr. Pulaski on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in 1988.

“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” [S3 E8] – Natira (Katherine Woodville) and her fellow countrymen on the world of Yonada wear many colorful designs, clearly utilizing a lot of whatever CBS had available (“Star Trek” was always a low-budget show, especially in its final season).

“Plato’s Stepchildren” [S3 310] – Primarily famous as the episode in which Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) share a kiss (a first for interracial kisses on American television), “Plato’s Stepchildren” also makes great use of glittery togas and laurels. (Our heroes are prisoners on a planet based on ancient Greek history and mythology, where all the beings there have telekinetic powers which hold Kirk, Spock, Uhura and Nurse Christine Chapel captive.) The forced kiss between Spock and Christine is particularly cruel not just because Spock is incapable of emotion, but because it is established early in season one that Christine has a crush – obviously unrequited – on her Vulcan comrade.

“The Way to Eden” [S3 E20] – Most fans describe this episode as one of “Star Trek’s” worst. I mean, yeah, it’s all about hippies in space, but look at Charles Napier’s outfit! A horrible hairpiece, a costume that looks like a typical challenge-losing design from “Project Runway,” and extremely high boots. All that, and he sings too!

(Oh, and by the way, the bald fellow you see at 0:13 is Skip Homeier.)

“The Savage Curtain” [S3 E22] – Probably best remembered as the episode that involves a projection of Abraham Lincoln (played by Lee Bergere), we see the Enterprise’s top officers wearing their special-event finery (like we also saw in the “Journey to Babel” clip), but I particularly love Scotty’s kilt, the tartan fabric of which connects to the top of his uniform jacket.

“All Our Yesterdays” [S3 E23] – The series’ penultimate episode might have the most entertaining costume reveal of all. Stuck in a musty cave during an ice age, Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley) sees her opportunity for romance when Spock and McCoy fall through a time portal and end up in her neck of the woods, so to speak; the lonely woman instantly falls in love with Spock, and despite the freezing cold temperatures, Zarabeth has clearly made the right choice for what to wear under her winter coat.

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: September 2016

Director Mira Nair and actress Lupita Nyong’o on the set of Queen of Katwe, 2015.

Here are twenty-two new movies due to be released in September which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

SEPTEMBER 2: Equal Means Equal (dir. Kamala Lopez) (DP: Jendra Jarnagin)From the film’s official website:Equal Means Equal offers an unflinching look at how women are treated in the United States today. Examining both real-life stories and precedent-setting legal cases, director Kamala Lopez uncovers how outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system. Along the way, she reveals the inadequacy of present laws that claim to protect women, ultimately presenting a compelling and persuasive argument for the urgency of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.”

SEPTEMBER 9: As I Open My Eyes (dir. Leyla Bouzid)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Tradition butts up against progress in Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature As I Open My Eyes, a musically-charged French-Tunisian film that follows a young woman in a band as she navigates familial, cultural, and social ideals in contemporary Tunis. Her band—assembled of several friends and one more-than-a-friend—plays a blend of original music and covers at local bars, including men’s-only joints. For Farah (Baya Medhaffar), the young woman at the heart of the film, music transcends cultures and languages, and the lengthy musical interludes demonstrate a kind of escapism. But music too is wrapped up in the politics. As I Open My Eyes situates itself at the dawn of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, and Farah’s music addresses politics and issues in her home country.”

SEPTEMBER 9: Cameraperson (dir./DP: Kirsten Johnson)IFC Center synopsis: “What does it mean to film someone? How does it affect the subject—and what does it do to the filmer? Johnson, the cinematographer behind such essential documentaries as Citizenfour, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Invisible War and dozens more, draws on the remarkable footage she’s shot throughout her career to craft an extraordinary, impressionistic, deeply poetic self-portrait. Revisiting and recontextualizing her life’s work, her film becomes a meditation on film’s uncanny ability to connect us to each other.”

SEPTEMBER 9: Ithaca (dir. Meg Ryan)From an Entertainment Weekly interview: “There’s a scene toward the beginning of Ithaca, Meg Ryan’s 1940s-set directorial debut, which sees a teenage boy returning home from his new job as a mail carrier. Having delivered a military telegram notifying a local woman of her son’s death, the boy, Homer (newcomer Alex Neustaedter), reassures his own mother (Ryan) of the goodness that still exists within him.

“‘Everything’s all right, mom… ‘ he begins, pacing as she knits in the corner. She echoes the sentiment from the sidelines, allowing her son to come of age in the space before her. ‘Everything’s all right, Homer,’ she repeats. ‘It’s only that you’re becoming aware of a world in which you’ve been a child.’

Ithaca is a labor of love that came from Ryan’s protective instincts as a mother of two, one that symbolizes the trajectory of her career, in a way; just as Homer grows under the watchful eye of his maker, the film is the product of maturation, nurtured by Ryan’s days acting in major Hollywood romances like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail and her feelings as a parent in the lead up to the Iraq War.

“An adaptation of William Saroyan’s 1943 novel The Human Comedy, Ithaca, which premiered at the Middleburg Film Festival in 2015, also stars Ryan’s son, Jack Quaid, and features an epic cameo by her long-time costar, Tom Hanks. The film, the actress tells EW, is about Homer’s emotional journey as he awaits his older brother’s return from the frontlines of WWII, and has an important relevance to today’s world – especially given the contentious climate surrounding international conflicts in the Middle East.

“‘There was a day I thought, “Oh, man. I can’t protect my kid from everything.” It’s a difficult moment,’ the 54-year old says, recalling the run-up to the Iraq War as inspiration for directing the project. ‘I think it speaks to the complicated things happening [in the world], in the sense of community and cultivation of an individual’s integrity – what Saroyan believes are important antidotes. Hopefully Ithaca is about how fierce and frail life really is.'”

SEPTEMBER 16: Bridget Jones’s Baby (dir. Sharon Maguire)From the film’s official website: “Oscar® winners Renée Zellweger and Colin Firth are joined by Patrick Dempsey for the next chapter of the world’s favorite singleton in Bridget Jones’s Baby. Directed by Sharon Maguire (Bridget Jones’s Diary), the new film in the beloved comedy series based on creator Helen Fielding’s heroine finds Bridget unexpectedly expecting.

“After breaking up with Mark Darcy (Firth), Bridget Jones’s (Zellweger) “happily ever after” hasn’t quite gone according to plan. Fortysomething and single again, she decides to focus on her job as top news producer and surround herself with old friends and new. For once, Bridget has everything completely under control. What could possibly go wrong?

“Then her love life takes a turn and Bridget meets a dashing American named Jack (Dempsey), the suitor who is everything Mr. Darcy is not. In an unlikely twist she finds herself pregnant, but with one hitch…she can only be fifty percent sure of the identity of her baby’s father.”

SEPTEMBER 16: Miss Stevens (dir. Julia Hart)From a Consequence of Sound review:Miss Stevens, the debut feature from writer/director Julia Hart, is perhaps most notable for what it’s not, and that’s another ennui-soaked tale of a high school teacher’s taboo affair with a student. Sure, ennui is everywhere in this handsome, well-acted feature, but what’s weirdly revolutionary about Miss Stevens is how it doesn’t assume a teacher’s depression stems from a longing for the freedoms of youth. As played by Lily Rabe, the film’s namesake character is struggling with something much more complicated, namely the psychological toll that comes with caring for your students as people rather than, well, students. That she’s still figuring out how to be an adult isn’t helping her any, either.

“So when she volunteers to take three students on a weekend trip to a high school drama competition, Rachel Stevens is forced to navigate the nebulous shift in dynamic that occurs when a teacher and her students meet in the real world. Margot (Lili Reinhart), for example, relies on Rachel for emotional support when she screws up her big audition. The boy-crazy Sam (Anthony Quintal) wants relationship advice. And then there’s Billy (Timothée Chalamet), a moody delinquent with a passion for drama and an interest in Rachel that’s, at best, spectacularly unhealthy.

“Rachel is also only 29, just a little more than a decade removed from the students she’s paid to educate. As such, she sees no problem drinking in front of the kids, dancing at their social, or hooking up with a married teacher (Rob Huebel) she meets on the dance floor. Fear not: this isn’t Bad Teacher territory; Rachel’s behavior is absolutely normal for her age, but is it appropriate here? And how does it change her students’ perception of her, not to mention her impact as an educator?

“Rabe’s performance here is nothing short of stunning. The sharp, lived-in tics and details of her character work are instantly endearing, an open window into her vulnerabilities and passions. What’s especially wonderful is watching her navigate the subtle shifts, the moments when she realizes a conversation with a student is veering into uncomfortable territory. Out-of-classroom conversations between teacher and student, after all, can be something of a minefield. Hart also culls strong supporting performances from the ever-charming Huebel–effectively dialed down from the absurd characters he often plays in comedies–as well as Chalamet, a talented young actor who can oscillate nimbly between charming and unhinged.”

SEPTEMBER 16: Silicon Cowboys (dir. Jason Cohen) (DP: Svetlana Cvetko)From the film’s official website: “Launched in 1981 by three friends in a Houston diner, Compaq Computer set out to build a portable PC to take on IBM, the world’s most powerful tech company. Many companies had tried cloning the industry leader’s code, only to be trounced by IBM and its high-priced lawyers. Silicon Cowboys explores the remarkable David vs. Goliath story, and eventual demise, of Compaq, an unlikely upstart who altered the future of computing and helped shape the world as we know it today.

“Directed by Academy Award®-nominated director Jason Cohen and produced by Ross M. Dinerstein (Jiro Dreams of Sushi) and Glen Zipper (Academy Award®-winning Undefeated), the film offers an insider’s look into the explosive rise of the 1980’s PC industry and is a refreshing alternative to the familiar narratives of Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg. Silicon Cowboys features interviews with Compaq founders Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto as well as Alec Berg, Executive Producer of HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley,’ and Chris Cantwell, co-creator of AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire.'”

SEPTEMBER 16: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (dir./DP: Deborah S. Esquenazi)From the film’s official website:Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four excavates the nightmarish persecution of Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh, and Anna Vasquez — four Latina lesbians wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls in San Antonio, Texas. The film begins its journey inside a Texas prison, after these women have spent nearly a decade behind bars. They were 19 and 20 years at the time that allegations surfaced.

“Using the women’s home video footage from 21 years ago combined with recent vérité footage and interviews, the film explores their personal narratives and their search for exculpatory evidence to help their losing criminal trials. 15 years into their journey, director Deborah S. Esquenazi captures an on-camera recantation by one of the initial outcry victims, now 25 years old although 7 at the time of the investigation. This brings the filmmaker into the role of investigator along with attorneys at the Innocence Project, who are just beginning their quest for truth in this case.

“Together with attorneys, the film culminates with the women being released from prison to await their searing new exoneration hearings in San Antonio. Helming new legislation, this is the first case in U.S. history that allows wrongfully convicted innocents to challenge convictions based on ‘Junk Science’, or debunked forensics. As lesbian low income women of color, these women hold intersecting identities that make them the most vulnerable to incarceration and juror bias. This under-reported injustice is actually widespread: Latina women represent one of the growing populations heading into prison. In addition, most reported exonerations and wrongful convictions focus solely on men and cases involving women, let alone lesbian women of color are largely under reported. The film unravels the interplay of mythology, homophobia, and prosecutorial fervor that led to their indictment.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Audrie & Daisy (dirs. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)From the film’s official website:Audrie & Daisy is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), Audrie & Daisy – which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – takes a hard look at American’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Chicken People (dir. Nicole Lucas Haimes) (DP: Martina Radwan)City Cinemas synopsis: “A funny and uplifting look at the world of show chickens and the people who love them. Starting at the largest national poultry competition, likened to the Westminster Dog Show for chickens, Chicken People follows  three top competitors over the course of a year as they grapple with life’s challenges while vying to win the next year’s crown. Both humorous and heartfelt, Chicken People is an unforgettable celebration of the human spirit.”

SEPTEMBER 23: The Dressmaker (dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse)From the film’s official website: “Based on the best-selling novel by Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker is a bittersweet comedy-drama set in early 1950s Australia. Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet), a beautiful and talented misfit, after many years working as a dressmaker in exclusive Parisian fashion houses, returns home to the tiny middle-of-nowhere town of Dungatar to right the wrongs of the past. Not only does she reconcile with her ailing, eccentric mother Molly (Judy Davis) and unexpectedly falls in love with the pure-hearted Teddy (Liam Hemsworth), but armed with her sewing machine and incredible sense of style, she transforms the women of the town and in doing so gets sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.”


SEPTEMBER 23: The Free World (dir. Jason Lew) (DP: Bérénice Eveno)IFC Center synopsis: “How hard would you fight to be free? After spending two decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Mo (Boyd Holbrook) struggles to put his past behind him as he readjusts to a new life working in an animal shelter. Doris (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in another sort of prison: an abusive marriage. A dramatic encounter brings these two troubled souls together, and a possible murder connects them. Soon, Mo finds himself risking everything – including being locked up once again for someone else’s crime – to protect the fragile Doris. Driven by explosive performances from Elisabeth Moss and rising star Boyd Holbrook, the feature debut from director Jason Lew is a gripping, mood-drenched exploration of guilt, redemption, and what it means to be free. Academy Award(R) winner Octavia Spencer and Sung Kang costar.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Generation Startup (dirs. Cheryl Miller Houser and Cynthia Wade)IFC Center synopsis: “This visit to the front lines of entrepreneurship in America captures the struggles and triumphs of six recent college graduates who put everything on the line to build startups in Detroit. Shot over 17 months, the film celebrates risk-taking, urban revitalization, and diversity while delivering a vital call-to-action—with entrepreneurship at a record low, America’s economic future is at stake.”


SEPTEMBER 23: The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (dir. Sara Fishko)WNYC synopsis: “Between 1957 and 1965 in New York, dozens of jazz musicians jam night after night in a dilapidated Sixth Avenue loft, not realizing that much of what they play and say to each other is being captured on audio tape and in still pictures by the gentle and unstable genius, former LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith, who lives in the loft space next door.

“Meanwhile, Thelonious Monk stops by for three weeks of rehearsals; drummer Ronnie Free gets hooked on hard drugs, having been turned on by a drummer who was his boyhood idol years before; loft-resident Hall Overton, Juilliard instructor and classical composer, becomes a jazz guru; the 50s give way to the 60s; Smith begins to record his own phone calls and visits from the local police; the world changes—and Smith gets evicted.”

SEPTEMBER 23: My Blind Brother (dir. Sophie Goodhart)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis: “Robbie (Adam Scott) is a champion blind athlete and local sports hero doted on by the community and seemingly incapable of wrongdoing. His unassuming brother Bill (Nick Kroll) knows the real Robbie to be petulant and arrogant, but still runs every marathon by his side and never makes a peep when he doesn’t receives the same accolades. When Bill gets lucky with a charming lady (Jenny Slate), he thinks his karma might finally be coming due, until his brother introduces him to his own new paramour (the very same Jenny Slate). Now Bill must decide if he will put himself second again or finally stand up to his blind brother.

“With its original take on the love triangle and sibling rivalry stories, brimming with farcical humor and chemistry between its trio of leads, Sophie Goodhart has crafted a sharp and utterly delightful romantic comedy.”

SEPTEMBER 23: Queen of Katwe (dir. Mira Nair)Walt Disney Pictures synopsis:Queen of Katwe is the colorful true story of a young girl selling corn on the streets of rural Uganda whose world rapidly changes when she is introduced to the game of chess, and, as a result of the support she receives from her family and community, is instilled with the confidence and determination she needs to pursue her dream of becoming an international chess champion. Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) from a screenplay by William Wheeler (The Hoax) based on the book by Tim Crothers, Queen of Katwe is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher (The Darjeeling Limited) and John Carls (Where the Wild Things Are) with Will Weiske and Troy Buder serving as executive producers. The film stars Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo (Selma), Oscar® winner and Tony Award® nominee Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and newcomer Madina Nalwanga.

“For 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Nalwanga) and her family, life in the impoverished slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle. Her mother, Harriet (Nyong’o), is fiercely determined to take care of her family and works tirelessly selling vegetables in the market to make sure her children are fed and have a roof over their heads. When Phiona meets Robert Katende (Oyelowo), a soccer player turned missionary who teaches local children chess, she is captivated. Chess requires a good deal of concentration, strategic thinking and risk taking, all skills which are applicable in everyday life, and Katende hopes to empower youth with the game. Phiona is impressed by the intelligence and wit the game requires and immediately shows potential. Recognizing Phiona’s natural aptitude for chess and the fighting spirit she’s inherited from her mother, Katende begins to mentor her, but Harriet is reluctant to provide any encouragement, not wanting to see her daughter disappointed. As Phiona begins to succeed in local chess competitions, Katende teaches her to read and write in order to pursue schooling. She quickly advances through the ranks in tournaments, but breaks away from her family to focus on her own life. Her mother eventually realizes that Phiona has a chance to excel and teams up with Katende to help her fulfill her extraordinary potential, escape a life of poverty and save her family.”

SEPTEMBER 28: Sand Storm (dir. Elite Zexer) – Seattle International Film Festival synopsis: “Two Bedouin women, a teenager and her mother, dare to defy polygamist marital traditions in southern Israel. Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

“Deep in the Negev desert, Bedouin villager Suliman has given his eldest child, Layla, many of the trappings of modern life—a cell phone, driving lessons, an education—instilling in her a sense of independence. But in other ways he is firmly rooted in the patriarchal past, with all the power and privilege it confers. When he takes a second wife, Layla is enlisted to help fix up the fancy new home he’s built next door to his existing family’s humbler accommodations. Meanwhile, his first wife, Jalila, grits her teeth and joins in the preparations, but is eventually escorted away by the local religious leader to make way for her replacement. But when Suliman decides, for his own murky reasons, to marry Layla off to a middle-aged man she barely knows, mother and daughter both decide to take a stand—with unexpected outcomes. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival, Elite Zexer’s first feature is a psychologically astute exploration of the complex relationships among women in male-dominated societies, and their revolutionary potential for change.”


SEPTEMBER 29 ONLY: The Hurt Business (dir. Vlad Yudin) (DPs: Eliana Álvarez Martínez, Kevin Israel Castro and Kristin Mendez)From the film’s official website: “From the producers of Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11 and Generation Iron, The Hurt Business details the lives of various martial arts superstars, including Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones, competing in one of the fastest growing sports in the world and the struggles and triumphs that accompany all careers in cage fighting. Besides featuring legends, such as Georges St-Pierre, and up-and-comers in the sport the film covers the history of mixed martial arts fighting, from the coliseums of ancient Greece to modern day venues such as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, all expertly narrated by Kevin Costner. Themes of injury both mental and physical are explored and the question is raised; is it worth it to sacrifice one’s mind and body for sport?

SEPTEMBER 30: American Honey (dir. Andrea Arnold)From a Paste review: “Utterly absorbing and intensely moving, writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is one of those big, bold, swing-for-the-fences societal portraits that few filmmakers dare attempt. There’s good reason: Try for a definitive snapshot of a country or a generation, and you risk overreaching or succumbing to pretension. Running nearly three hours, American Honey doesn’t let those concerns get in its way, and the result is the sort of electric audacity that paves over the movie’s occasional wobbles. With Red Road and Fish Tank, Arnold has looked closely at poverty, youth and desperation in her native England. With American Honey, she turns her attention to the United States, and what she finds is a vibrant, troubled, mesmerizing land.

“The film stars newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, who is caring for two young children (her boyfriend’s, not hers), somewhere in the South. Dumpster diving, Star radiates the sort of scrappy, raw energy that marks her as someone who’s never had much money and always had to fight for everything she’s gotten. So, it’s fairly obvious why she takes a liking to Jake (Shia LaBeouf), who drives by in a van with a group of young kids. Catching her eye, Jake is a fellow charming survivor, explaining that he’s part of a group that travels cross-country selling magazines door-to-door. Star can’t believe such an operation exists in the 21st century, but Jake swears there’s decent money to be made. Impulsively, she abandons her makeshift family—her boyfriend seems like a redneck cretin, anyway—and runs off to join another.

“…Arnold has often focused on outcasts and those living on the margins, but with American Honey she seems positively entranced by the United States’ kinetic strangeness. Despite the occasional presence of a Confederate flag or other fraught American symbols, the movie actually isn’t that judgmental about the people Star comes across. There is a clear attempt on the filmmaker’s part to provide some sort of exhaustive overview, a time-capsule snapshot, of the nation. What she discovers may be a bit overstated, but it’s unquestionably accurate in its overflowing energy.”


SEPTEMBER 30: Among the Believers (dirs. Mohammed Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi)Cinema Village synopsis: “Firebrand cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, an ISIS supporter and Taliban ally, is waging jihad against the Pakistani government with the aim of imposing Shariah law. His primary weapon is his expanding network of Islamic seminaries for children as young as four. Among the Believers follows Aziz’s personal quest, and charts the lives of two of his teenage students who are pawns in his ideological war.”

SEPTEMBER 30: The Blackcoat’s Daughter (dir. Osgood “Oz” Perkins) (DP: Julie Kirkwood) [release date moved back from July 2016]From a Pop Matters review: “A female-only boarding school is the setting of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Covered, positively blanketed in snow, it’s isolated, the nights an unrelenting pitch black. Inside are two girls, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) and Rose (Lucy Boynton), both left behind during a February break, waiting for their parents. They wander through empty hallways, but the subtle noises—screeching creaks and low groans—betray the assumption that they’re alone here.

“At the same time, Joan (Emma Roberts), a girl with a cloudy past, wanders through a cold, snowy landscape, eventually hitching a ride with an unnamed couple whose strained dynamic hints at trouble unspoken. They share uncomfortable car rides to a town a few miles away, the husband assuming a strangely paternal role for Joan.

“Formerly titled February, The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow, moody, and thoroughly unnerving walk through an almost overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere. Osgood Perkins, son of Psycho actor Anthony Perkins, demonstrates great skill in developing the film’s occult atmosphere. His jagged camera angles and the dark, discordant music combine with subdued performances—naturalistic with a small degree of slowly simmering insanity underneath them—to create a creeping mood that seems perfectly tailored to the film’s narrative.”


SEPTEMBER 30: Girl Asleep (dir. Rosemary Myers)From the film’s official website: “The world is closing in on Greta Driscoll. On the cusp of turning fifteen she can’t bear to leave her childhood, it contains all the things that give her comfort in this incomprehensible new world. She floats in a bubble of loserdom with her only friend Elliott, until her parents throw her a surprise 15th birthday party and she’s flung into a parallel place; a world that’s weirdly erotic, a little bit violent and thoroughly ludicrous – only there can she find herself.

“Based on the critically acclaimed production by [Australia’s] Windmill Theatre, Girl Asleep is a journey into the absurd, scary and beautiful heart of the teenage mind.”