Thoughts on Spring (2014)

Spring (2014) is a Lovecraftian rom-com courtesy of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (written by Benson), whose (plural) second feature, The Endless (2017), garnered quite a bit of attention last year. It’s the tale of Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), an American in Italy who falls for Louise (Nadia Hilker), only to realize that she’s a Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl. If the unfolding mystery interests you at all, go see it first; conversely, if you’re more interested in the romance than the impending dread, then read on, my friend, read on.

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Thoughts on Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation (2018), Alex Garland’s sophomore effort, is every bit as astounding as his freshman one, Ex Machina (2014). In essence, the plot is the following strung together: Stalker (1979), Solaris (1972), the Doctor Who (1963-) episode “Midnight,” Under the Skin (2013), and Ex Machina. The filmmaking, though, is incredibly self-assured, despite all the technical and narrative innovations.

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There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth: An Impossibly Small Object (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

An Impossibly Small Object (2017), Dutch filmmaker David Verbeek’s second feature set in Taiwan and third feature set in the Far-Eastern Sinosphere, is two stories thinly interconnected: a grade school friendship between a girl and a boy just as it’s ending, and a Dutch photographer (Verbeek) torn between homesickness and wanderlust. The first tale is an atmospheric work of magical realism reminiscent of the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, albeit with more dynamic camerawork; the second tale is little more than subtitled mumblecore. But an enigmatic third act, though brief, manages to transmute unanswered questions into mysterious ambiguities.

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There’s No Place Like Home: Disobedience (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Lesbian sexuality on the big screen can be a fraught endeavor. In an art form that has traditionally rendered the male gaze, it takes intentional distance from formal convention to keep the lens expressive of female desire. Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience (2017), and the work of its cinematographer, Danny Cohen, does this wonderfully. There is some nudity, to be sure, but it’s neither prurient nor pointedly avoided, but rather treated indifferently by the camera, a side-note to what it’s really focused on: lustful attention. The sex scene is sexy, even kinky in its feminist appropriation of projecting bodily fluids, but even sexier is when, as they get dressed, photographer Ronit (Rachel Weisz) asks and is allowed to photograph Esti (Rachel McAdams).

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Thoughts on The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

I had the great pleasure of seeing on the big screen The Night of the Hunter (1955), a classic of American cinema. Like the best horror, it eschews jump scares in favor of creeping dread and unsettling elements. Peter Kimpton gives a great review that covers all the bases, and David Gritten goes in depth on the film’s production history. I just want to point out two more things.

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Thoughts on Dave Made a Maze (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) comes home after a weekend business trip to find that her boyfriend, professional dabbler Dave (Nick Thune), has built a cardboard fort in the living room that for some reason emits steam. He says from somewhere that sounds far and deep that he’s lost and slightly hurt, refuses to allow his beloved fort to be torn down, and begs Annie for her own safety not to enter and get him. So she calls Dave’s friend, Gordon (Adam Busch), who calls their friend, amateur documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak playing a Colin Firth impersonator sans accent), who brings his sound and camera duo, who . . . and before you know it, there’s a “marvel at the predicament Dave got himself into” party. Unable to take it anymore, Annie enters the fort, followed by everyone else, and discovers that (as Dave kept saying) “It’s bigger on the inside.” Way bigger. In fact, it’s a labyrinth made of cardboard, fully equipped with death traps and even a minotaur. Welcome to Dave Made a Maze (2017).

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Thoughts on Impossibility Defense (Funôhan / 不能犯 2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

The impossibility defense is a legal term that refers to how the prosecution must prove the physical possibility of the defendant committing the crime alleged. In Impossibility Defense (Funôhan / 不能犯 2018), based on the eponymous manga but with a female lead, the black-clad, gangsterish Tadashi Usobuki (Tori Matsuzaka) kills people upon request with hypnosis, leaving no physical evidence of wrongdoing; but if the person who wants someone dead isn’t pure of murderous intent, he dooms them, too. Crack police detective Tomoko Tada (Erika Sawajiri) takes up the case and discovers that she isn’t susceptible to Usobuki’s hypnosis, setting the scene for a series of ethical conundrums akin to those in The Dark Knight (2008), but designed with a bit more intelligence.

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Thoughts on Best F(r)iends: Volume One (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Despite the small number of reviews of Best F(r)iends: Volume One (2017), Ben Pearson manages to cover all the bases and articulate most of what I felt watching the film. I only want to add a few things.

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How I Felt toward This Film About Midway Through: Hostile (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Writer-director Mathieu Turi’s debut is a zombie post-apocalypse thriller cum meditation on a romantic relationship, brazenly tied together. Despite heartfelt acting and high production values (on a low budget, no less!), the melodramatic direction, tone-deaf dialogue, predictable plot, and overly intellectual transitions had me checking out about a fourth of the way into this under-ninety-minute effort. Elevated horror Hostile (2017) is not.

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Thoughts on Lenny (1974)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Given how much this Citizen Kane (1941) knock-off of a biopic depends on the myth of Lenny Bruce over the man, it was a distinct pleasure to sit in the second row to see this, especially because it was a showing of an unrestored 35mm film.

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