Is there anything more satisfying than a catchy pop tune you can’t get out of your head? A tune that pounds its way into the crevices of your brain and infiltrates your every thought? Many times these songs enter our consciousness with little regard to who wrote, who sung it, and how it came to be a hit. But, Brady Corbet’s film, Vox Lux, forces the audience to confront the sinister undertones of pop and its relationship to the spectacle of violence.
Vox Lux is presented in two parts that are defined by two violent tragedies that affect the life of pop star Celeste, played by both Raffey Cassidy and Natalie Portman. These violent tragedies occur when Celeste is 13 and 31. The first act of violence defines Celeste and shapes her career, her persona, her entire life. The second less directly impacts her, but is still a reflection of her career. Giving much more away would ruin the experience. This is a film best viewed with almost zero expectations or knowledge going in. Let the surprises, twists, and turns wash over you like a bubble-gum-sweet summer ballad that you find yourself mindlessly repeating on your commute home.
Gather ‘round, folks, because the Coen Brothers have another tale to tell—six tales, in fact. With their anthology project The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the pair revisit some well-tread ground—death, greed, and comedy in the Old West—through a series of storybook vignettes that are just as violent (and twice as witty) as any Grimm fairytale. None of the film’s individual chapters achieve anything the directors haven’t already given us in spades, but the pieces come together to form an intriguing, if somewhat hollow, collection, resembling more of a patchwork quilt from a forgotten civilization than a feature-length Hollywood film.
An unsolved mystery, especially one as peculiar as the case of the Lizzie Borden murders, should be like gold dust for filmmakers looking to tap into a ready-made audience. The chance to portray a real story that has peaked our communal curiosity for over a hundred years provides an opportunity to update those old tales for a new, fresher audience, and dare to make judgements through the interpretive lens of a camera. With a wealth of grisly information on the aftermath (Mr. Borden was struck 18 times with an axe; his wife 17), here is the perfect circumstance for an artist to create something devastatingly haunting from a story so deeply embedded in American popular culture. Lizzie promises all of this but never delivers, presenting us instead with a bare-bones carcass of a biopic that is stripped of all individuality, charm, or character.
Coming-of-age stories are no stranger to the horror genre. The emotional turmoil, bodily transformations, and anxieties that come with teenage years are ripe for the horror picking, from Ginger Snaps to Raw. Sometimes, you think you’ve seen all the different variations of these stories. Then you see something new and exciting, something that blows your mind using a strange little puppet monster. My next recommendation for this month of horror is The Nightmare, or Der Nachtmahr.
The 2015 German film follows party girl Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) as she navigates a life of house music, drugs, boys, and anxiety. As the bass pumps ever louder and the lights never stop flashing, Tina loses herself in the music, a momentary reprieve from the pressures of being 17. However, she can’t escape for too long, because her fears take a physical form: a little gremlin creature with which she is mentally linked.
Most movies about space are mammoth beasts. They’re epic, vast, an attempt to capture as much of the endless void as the lens can handle. It’s surprising then that for a film of this scale, it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to call First Man a small movie. We’ve always looked at the moon landing as a momentous achievement for humanity, but fail to look at the humans who made it possible. Damien Chazelle, in his follow-up to almost best picture winner La La Land, corrects this and then some – First Man is an immersive, exhausting ride, on a physical and emotional level.
Chinese director-writer Bi Gan’s second feature, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which premiered at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, is set in Kaili like his first feature Kaili Blues. The film has nothing in common with Eugene O’Neill’s play by the same name or with the film’s Chinese title Last Evenings on Earth, a short story collection by Roberto Bolaño. They’re both just amongst many literary and artistic references that are scattered throughout the film.
Protagonist Luo Hongwa (Huang Jue) gives to us one of the central mysteries of the film by questioning the reality of fragmented memories in the first scene, as he reminisces about a love affair he had many years ago. Throughout the film, we’re never sure if what we’re seeing is a memory or a dream, reality or plays of Hongwa’s subconscious. The first 70 minutes of the film delve into that love affair between Luo and Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), a woman straight out of a femme fatale section of a character trope book. There are ambiguous plotlines about their mutual friend Wildcat’s murder, Luo’s father’s restaurant, a green book, but none of them reach somewhere. They’re more like part of the flow than devices that advance or enrich the story.
Riverdale’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. It compellingly criticises the culture which produced it, but this scrutiny reveals the show’s own inadequacies. Archie, played by KJ Apa, has an incredibly cliché arc in the first few episodes. Veronica calls out his struggle of balancing his passion as a musician and obligation as a football player as a tired dichotomy, something which they, as young people woke to the system, should actively resist, and seek greater depth in their lives. Despite blatantly criticising its own genre Riverdale got a lot of content out of that so-called tired dichotomy.
Riverdale, it seems, wishes to have its woke cake and eat it too.