The 2nd season of writer John Logan's PENNY DREADFUL is a transcendent moment in horror. So richly textured, so beautifully bloody. It made the horror fan in me absolutely giddy. This will only mean something to about five of you but the neato-keen-I'm-14-again thrill I felt reminded me not of a movie, but of reading Clive Barker's BOOKS OF BLOOD way back in 1984, or a mind-twist 2005 Joe Hill short story called "Best New Horror" (available on Kindle; please find it). Mmmm...Try this: this second season of PENNY DREADFUL (1000 times better than the first), with its insanely textured production design (hit Pause, and just LOOK), and deep respect for powerful women (real, supernatural, and "created"), and its Catholic imagery (only the fearless Eva Green could pull off that transgressive scene with the cross), as well as Logan's deep love for Draculian castles and Victorian ballrooms drenched in blood, reminded me, at varies times of Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese, Val Lewton, Wes Anderson, and novelist Margaret Atwood (if she'd written a straight-on Gothic, which she really should.) And in the final episodes especially, you're sure to think of Dan Curtis' "Dark Shadows," because, you know, when you're doing witchery and werewolves and dungeons...a little cheesiness has to creep in, and maybe, a smart writer (and production staff) welcomes it. For me, that's the happiest thing: this year, PENNY DREADFUL was serious, goofy, gloomy FUN. (Chuck Wilson)
When life suddenly gets real (too real), your gaze narrows, sharply, and you stop paying attention to the outer world. You see what you need to see to do what you need to do, and when you do swing back round to social media and the headlines, you find that you don't know what the hell everyone's talking about, and you find too that you don't have the luxury to care. Your gaze drops back down. And in the space between steps, on those days when you're trying your best not to fall over (or to be seen to fall over), you realize that you can actually HEAR your life, and that hearing your life is something you spend most of your days avoiding—easier than ever to do in this newly urgent world, with its pings and dings and screaming alerts, all of which, in the these three weeks of extended time, you haven't much missed. You know less but maybe—just maybe—you know more. You're not quite out the other side of this thing, but when you are, you hope you'll remember to listen for that enormous (terrifyingly) quiet sound, which is your life (and which needs tending), and remember too that funny little truth which you're sure to forget (so you better write it down): Not knowing (every damn thing) is the new bliss. (Chuck Wilson)
In the artfully creepy horror film It Follows, sex kills (eventually). After a night of romance, nineteen-year-old Jay (Maika Monroe) learns that in the act of making love, her boyfriend (Jake Weary) has purposefully infected her, as it were, with a supernatural curse. Soon, Jay is being stalked by a zombie-like being that never appears in the same body twice."It" could be anywhere — in the far distance, or right outside Jay's bedroom door, ready to pounce. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell's follow-up to his rather wonderful debut film, TheMyth of the American Sleepover, appears to take place in the late 1970s or early '80s. There's nary an iPad in sight — just heavy furniture, ugly lamps, and the sense that Jay's demonic dilemma is just another life danger the grown-ups (who are nowhere to be seen) neglected to mention. Since it premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival, It Follows has been heralded by many critics as the scariest movie since time began, but diehard fright-flick fans (such as this reviewer) may not agree. Mitchell's unwillingness to define the parameters of the specter haunting Jay leads to a finale that's muddled and confusing, and definitely not scary. Then again, maybe it's just me. I wish I had seen It Follows — which is refreshingly free of bloody violence — in a theater packed with teens and college students. Mitchell clearly means for this film to speak to them, and if the kids think this is the scariest thing ever, then so be it. (Chuck Wilson)
Avenged is an action-horror mash-up that's very silly, quite gruesome, and a whole lot of fun. While driving alone through the desert lands of New Mexico, the very blonde, very smart Zoe (Amanda Adrienne) is kidnapped, raped, and then killed by a gang of racist, hillbilly-trash idiots. In trying to save Zoe, a local Native American man ends up calling forth the spirit of a great Apache warrior, who takes possession of Zoe's body and turns her into a bow-and-arrow-wielding revenge machine. First-time writer-director Michael S. Ojeda has made a B-movie that's full of improbable tonal shifts -- there's a terrific Mad Max–style fight on the back of a speeding pickup truck, but there's also the moment when the spirit of the Apache warrior rises out of Zoe's body and hovers in the air, an effect that feels like a throwback to the 1970s. But Ojeda, who must be a very confident guy, makes it all work, although he does give those hillbilly idiots a bit too much yammering time. Adrienne, meanwhile, brings an affecting, Carrie-after-the-prom plaintiveness to Zoe, who's dead, possessed, and unlucky enough to know it. (Chuck Wilson)
The magnificent dance film Flamenco Flamenco begins, as it must, with a lady in red. Scarlet red, the dress clings to the impossibly lithe body of Sara Baras, Spain's preeminent female dancer, who stretches her long arms to the sky and then, with a slight hitch of that dress and an inward smile, begins tapping her thick high heels against the floor, hard and fast, and then faster still, in a rhythm that is all at once the sound of power and sex and hope.
Flamenco, whose roots date back to 18th-century Spain, embodies life's core themes, so it's no wonder 82-year-old writer-director Carlos Saura can't get it out of his system. Of his 40 films, ten have been designed around flamenco music and dance, including the musical dramas Blood Wedding (1981) and the Oscar-nominated Carmen (1983). The narrative-free Flamenco Flamenco, filmed on a Seville soundstage and photographed by master cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor), contains 21 untitled three- to six-minute musical performances. A viewer may not connect, emotionally, with every number, and may even dislike a few, but that, too, the film suggests, is the nature of flamenco. We bring to it whoever we are in the given moment.
There are male dancers and singers in FlamencoFlamenco, including a joyous two-man, two-piano musical duet and a dazzling solo by Israel Galván that finds the minimalist master using side-stepping staccato-speed heel-work and snapping fingers as his only musical accompaniment. But it is the women who own the screen and stir the soul. Early on, six young dancers, covered from head to toe in gorgeous blue veils, perform a formal, synchronized "prayer to the Virgin Mary" only to return later in sleeveless, contemporary dresses, their ponytailed hair whipping in time to the firm tempo of their steps, and their attitude too, which seems to declare an official break from the burdensome expectations of the past.
Celebrating the traditions of flamenco while exulting in its boundless possibilities is what appears to drive Saura. The work of young renegades such as Galvin and Rocío Molina is juxtaposed against numbers by legends such as the 79-year-old singer María Bala, whose stunning, pain-etched vocal solo will stand as her last filmed performance. She died earlier this month.
In Flamenco Flamenco, the performers are set against painted backdrops that radiate the turbulent passions of the music and dance — blues and browns and purples so breathtaking you may long to ask the projectionist to freeze the frame so that the image can be studied like a painting. Saura's cinematographer, the 74-year-old Storaro, would surely reject the idea of his lighting design as an end unto itself. His job is to enhance the artistry of each performer, to illuminate the themes in their every note and step. Storaro and Saura have worked together many times, and here, as always, the cinematographer serves the director's vision, yet it must be said: Flamenco Flamenco is the most beautifully photographed film in recent memory. Come for the dance; stay for the light. (Chuck Wilson)
The Drop, the richly textured, beautifully acted film collaboration between Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead) and novelist-turned-screenwriter Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), takes place in the present, but its heart lies in the noirish past of both movies and literature. In that shadowy realm, tough guys are endlessly quotable, and most everyone — even the hero — is holding tight to a terrible secret. Actually, the dark, hooded eyes of The Drop’s Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) might not be hiding a secret — he may just be lonely. Hard to say. Either way, he looks awfully sad. Imagine Rocky Balboa, if he had never met Adrian.
Bob lives alone in his dead mother’s house, attends Mass at St. Dominic’s in the afternoon and tends bar at night at Cousin Marv’s, the Brooklyn dive owned by his actual cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). As the neighborhood loan shark, Marv once ruled his narrow stretch of the world, only to have his power snatched from under him by gangsters who came from nowhere — well, Chechnya — and took over. In the parlance of the neighborhood, Marv “blinked.”
“Fucking Chechnyans,” Marv complains, practically spitting. “They’re Chechens, not Chechnyans,” Bob replies, but it’s no use. Marv isn’t a man who corrects himself, which makes him as dangerous as ever.
The Drop has its fair share of thieves, thugs and sudden violence, but its driving force, it could be said, is a dog. A pit-bull puppy, to be exact, beaten and bloody but adorable, which Bob rescues from a trash can on his way home from work. The can belongs to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a waitress who looks a bit battered herself, and who may know more than she’s telling about how that mutt wound up tossed out. “I don’t know what to do,” Bob tells her, as he prepares to drive away with the dog. “I don’t know anything.” Reluctantly, the tense, guarded Nadia agrees to teach Bob how to care for (and love) another living creature.
A dog (who eventually gets a most excellent name) and a potential girlfriend in one fell swoop: For a churchgoing loner such as Bob, this is just shy of miraculous. But this being Brooklyn noir, good news must be balanced with bad. A few nights later, two wiry, nervous men hold up the bar. It wasn’t a “drop” night — it’s Marv’s five grand they steal — but the obscenely confident Chechen kingpin, Chovka (Michael Aronov), expects Marv, and by extension Bob, to find the culprits and get back the money. If they do, the bar could become the drop spot for Super Bowl Sunday, an honor Marv desperately desires, both for his small percentage of the cut and for the bragging rights to once again being a major player.
The Belgian Roskam, making only his second feature film and his first in English, displays remarkable assurance with both the actors and the film’s very American setting. He creates an escalating sense of dread, tinged with Lehane’s brand of mordant humor. Beware guys with wristwatches stuck at 6:15 and violently rocking unmarked vans. Or friends who are a bit too adept at getting rid of body parts. Men who are perpetually open to the possibility of violence can be surprisingly funny (in movies, anyway), so there’s this, when Marv is offering a ride to a local who’s reluctant to get in the car: “What?” Marv asks. “You think I got the trunk lined with plastic?”
In print, that line sounds like pure Tony Soprano, but one of the many triumphs of Gandolfini’s final performance is that we experience him, in each and every moment, as Cousin Marv. Tony is long gone, and if audiences (and critics) compare Marv to Tony, well, that’s our foolishness, not the actor’s. Lehane has written a powerhouse scene near the end of The Drop, when Marv explains his embittered worldview to Bob, whose own belief system has changed over the course of the movie. Not Marv. He’s sitting in his living room, in his Barcalounger, and is literally, and figuratively, dug in deep.
It’s a short scene but Gandolfini is working from a place so potent that it feels afterward as if he’s delivered a lengthy monologue. That scene, and this performance, might bring him posthumous awards, and that would be nice, but Gandolfini surely would be happier in the knowledge that Marv is going to live on, long past awards season, and long past the theatrical run of The Drop. Great actors live on in the movies but they also live on in us. (Chuck Wilson)
For L.A. movie lovers, the New Beverly Cinema revival house is sacred territory. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) owns the theater, but it’s always been managed and programmed by Michael Torgan, son of the theater’s founder, the late Sherman Torgan. When rumors reached us that Tarantino would be taking over as full-time programmer, we reached out to him for clarification, and were delighted when he returned our call. For the record, we also reached out to Michael Torgan but were unable to connect with him. (We hope he’s taking a well-deserved vacation.)
L.A. WEEKLY: How did you come to be involved with the New Beverly as an owner?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Sherman Torgan opened the New Beverly [in 1978] and had been running it for decades. I had been going there forever. And somewhere in the last four years of Sherman running the theater, word got to me that it might close. So I started supplementing him, started giving him about $5,000 a month, to pay his bills and meet his expenses. He never had to pay it back. I love Los Angeles, and I love the New Beverly, and I didn’t want to see it go. But then, unfortunately, Sherman died [in June 2007]. And the people who owned the property wanted to turn it into a Super Cuts. So, working through Michael, I was able to buy the property. And Michael’s been running the theater ever since. I could say, "Hey, Michael, can we do this, can we show that?" but basically it’s been Michael’s baby. He’s really done a Herculean job. But after seven years as owner, I wanted to make it mine.
Is it true that you offered Michael the chance to stay on as manager but not as programmer, and he declined?
We’re still figuring that out. I want him to be involved as much as possible.
You’re passionate about the survival of 35mm film. Is that what this is about?
That was the thing that pushed me over to say, "Now’s the time to do it." I want the New Beverly to be a bastion for 35mm films. I want it to stand for something. When you see a film on the New Beverly calendar, you don’t have to ask whether it’s going to be shown in DCP [Digital Cinema Projection] or in 35mm. You know it’s playing in 35 because it’s the New Beverly.
Was there pressure on Michael, and on you, to bring digital projection to the New Beverly?
Michael brought in digital for the simple fact that, besides being a revival house, the New Beverly is an art film second-run house. So, if Frances Ha does well in general release, a month or two later, it plays at the New Beverly, along with something similar. But the companies that release those kinds of movies don’t even make prints anymore. My feeling is, fuck those guys. I want young filmmakers to want their movie to screen at the New Beverly so badly that they demand a print as part of the deal they make with Magnolia or Roadside Attractions or whoever. "You have to strike a 35mm print so we can show it at the New Beverly! You’re not paying me jack-shit, you’re ripping me off, but that’s one thing you can do!" [Laughs. Heartily.]
There’s a notion out there that Quentin Tarantino is going to turn the New Beverly into a B-movie, grindhouse theater.
No, no, no, not at all. That double-feature format that Sherman came up with, we’re keeping. We’ll be doing the thing the New Beverly does so well — we’ll have Fassbinder double features, Truffaut double features, the Thin Man movies, all that. But I have a really, really huge film-print collection that I’ve been curating for almost 20 years now. And I want to show my prints! [Laughs.] We’ll still be borrowing prints from the studios and other collectors, but I like the idea that the base of what we’re doing will be my print collection. Some of them are absolutely amazing, and I want people to see them, to enjoy them.
What are the prints you prize most?
I have all three Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood movies in I.B. Technicolor. Magnificent-looking. I just saw the DCP restoration of A Fistful of Dollars at Cannes. I introduced it. I felt like I was watching a DVD. I said, "Why didn’t you ask me to bring my fucking print?" They said, ‘Well, there was three extra minutes in this." I said, "I’ve seen that movie a million times and I didn’t notice those extra minutes. I just noticed that it looked like a fucking DVD."
We’re adding six-track stereo sound to the theater, because I have quite a few prints that are six-track mag [magnetic] sound. They’ll sound amazing. And we’ll be adding a 16mm projector too because I have a big 16 collection, too, and sometimes, especially for that second movie, a 16 is just perfect. And there’s my big, huge trailer collection, and there’s all the cartoons and shorts that I have. Concession stand bumpers, too. Vintage ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s. Some really groovy stuff.
On Saturday, we’ll keep the weird midnight movie thing. It’s a tradition. But the Friday midnight will always be one of my movies. One month it’ll be Reservoir Dogs, another month it’ll be Death Proof, another month Django. The idea being that if you actually want to see one of my movies on 35mm film, you’ll have a place to do so.
It’s your theater, after all.
Well, I don’t feel so bad about it because Sherman played Reservoir Dogs at midnight on Friday and Saturday for three years!
It’s been said that you, the busy filmmaker who’s about to make a new movie [The Hateful Eight], will be programming each day of every month, all year long. Is that true?
Listen, I’ve had a million ideas for double features and such, for a long, long time. I’ve been holding off, waiting for this moment. I’m going to program the first three months. But then the other people working in the theater can put together the schedule. I’ll always have lots of ideas, but they’re creative, they’re excited, they want to come up with their own thing. But yeah, these first three months will be my perspective entirely.
Over the course of 11 days, in February 2012, thousands of people lined the streets of Los Angeles and 21 outlying cities to watch as a 340-ton granite boulder was moved, ever so slowly, from the desert to the city. In his wonderfully entertaining new documentary, filmmaker Doug Pray tracks the rock's improbable journey from a remote quarry to the County Museum of Art, where it stands today as "Levitated Mass," an outdoor installation by landscape artist Michael Heizer.
With a deft hand, Pray juxtaposes a history of Heizer's revolutionary career as a "negative space" sculptor with an insider's view of the insanely complex planning it took to move the two-story monolith. Baffled but dedicated city workers rush to lift power lines as delighted spectators cheer from the roadside and from front yards, coffee shops, and even a dusty old bar. Spending 10 million (privately funded) dollars to move a giant boulder is the very measure of wastefulness some say, and they may be right. But how can you not fall under the project's spell when a mechanical glitch brings the caravan to a stop directly in front of (wait for it) the "Rock of Salvation Church"? (Chuck Wilson)