Thursday, October 22, 2020

NewFest Review: Get Sick or Die Tryin'

Sometimes one little thing leads to one little other -- you flap your wings in China and a tidal wave spills somebody's soup in the Bronx, or so the saying says. Haven't we all told a lie before? Let the first sinless person cast the first stone and I'll show you a liar who just had a rock in their hands. The sharp tense thriller White Lie, screening tomorrow for NewFest, shoves these apocalyptic tendencies of ours under a microscope -- why do we lie and why can't we stop?

We first meet Katie Arneson (a phenomenal Kacey Rohl) as she shaves her head bald. We second meet Katie as she then makes an appearance at a public event where we see her wet-eyed shorn head centered on a big banner, loudly exclaiming her needy sickliness. It's not hard to put first and second together, especially as the cool white letters of the movie's title announce themselves over Katie's cool white scalp -- Katie be a lyin' liar, yo.

Munchausen Syndrome, by proxy or no, has been big news shit (not to mention the subject of several docs and fiction pieces) here in these modern days, especially now with the ability to monetize our finely calibrated illnesses with the click of a button -- online sob stories are literally a dime a dozen, especially in a society as twisted as ours when it comes to healthcare. It's a Get Rich Scheme that makes everybody feel good! Until the first whisper of sordidness saunters its way into the conversation -- we love being made to feel good about our nobles and altruistic selves but are simultaneously infinitesimal degrees away from snapping like feral wolves if those instincts get in any way sullied.

And so Katie's schemes and machinations inevitably grow more complicated by the day, then the hour, down to the minute and the second, and we watch her spin and loop her plans together like yarn string knitting tighter around her own throat -- a coat of many cancers ten sizes too small. While White Lie sometimes strains believability in how ill-planned Katie is for what Katie plans to do -- she doesn't know the correct treatments for what she's supposed to have even as she applies for a huge grant on the basis of her cough-cough story -- the film shows how that fly-by-pants routine's done fine by her for quite some time. 

Smartly, without hitting this point too hard -- although its right there in the title if you're looking for it -- the film positions Katie's particular brand of poisoned White Woman Victimhood smack up against a person of color, a young immigrant Dr. Jordan (Thomas Olajide) who she attempts to lure into her scheme. Jordan's got actual honest problems at home -- a sick mom -- that Katie doesn't hesitate to wield as a tool of manipulation over the Good Doctor, and once things start not going her way oh watch out, she'll keep spreading her hate over everything.   

All of this is further complicated by the film making Katie a lesbian -- her relationship with rich girl Jennifer (Amber Anderson, who needs to play Marion Cotillard's younger sister like yesterday) seems genuine and loving, but who can really tell with Katie? Still their queerness is never an issue -- everybody's parents seem on-board, especially Jennifer's -- a fascinating lack of conflict in this world of hierarchal and price-tagged sufferings. Is this love for real, is it for the money, or is it for another X-mark on the "I'm a minority too!" application form? 

White Lie plays with all of these ideas without ever being too precious about any of them -- mostly what it wants t do is ratchet up the tension as the noose tightens on Katie's schemes, and it does so with finesse. It's a terrifically crafted little thriller, cool to the touch and scorching in its implications. Rohl gives an unapologetically confrontational performance, turning Katie's constant state of victimhood into a bony elbow to the ribs and a rifle through your wallet while you're down for the count. She wields herself with beautiful blunt force. 

Quotes of the Day

"I’ve always found that [nudity] made me feel very powerful. You’re saying: This is me. This is the bad shit. I’m not in good shape. This is the hair on my chest. Forgive me, that sounds so fucking actorly, but there’s something about nudity that just gets right to the point.”

I know I saw some people -- the right, smart people -- answering that "Who's the Best Chris?" meme that was going around this past week -- the one that rears its head very few months, and which this time pissed homophobic-church-supporting Chris Pratt off since he per usual came in last -- by saying, "Chris Messina, obviously!" But for serious -- Chris Messina, obviously! He's the only Chris that's not only whipped his dick out on screen, and more than once -- he has talked beautifully about how important whipping his dick out is to His Art here in this new chat with The Cut (thx Mac). How does that not immediately crown him King of the Chrises? Oh and then there's this amazing bit of deeply admirable pervertedness:

"He goes on to describe an early acting experience in which he had to masturbate to completion (with his back to the audience) in a play. He usually mimed the action, but the day his parents came to watch he decided to go for the real thing: “I remember thinking, You’re not a real actor. I could end this now and put them at ease, or I could be a real fucking actor and keep going.” So this time, he really went for it — as in he really jacked off — but in his determination to prove himself he got stressed, and just ended up making the scene much too long. Luckily, his parents didn’t bring it up afterward. “They were just like, ‘Where do you wanna go, wanna get something to eat?’”

Riz Ahmed Three Times

First off the above photo is just unf. I've said it before but photographers always need to get Riz to show off his profile because he has quite simply got the most incredible profile in the movies today. Just exquisite. It comes to us via Interview Magazine, which just dropped a chat between Riz and of just Octavia effin' Spencer -- he's got his deaf shirtless drummer movie Sound of Metal coming out soon (see the trailer here) while she's got the re-do of The Witches, which is out today. (More on that later.)

They're actually just about to act in a film together called Invasion (see this post), although Riz says here that they don't share any scenes! Boo! The best bit of this chat actually comes from Octavia though, who shares this:

"I’m in a Friday night group where we watch all the Best Pictures from the Academy Awards and dress up as one of the characters to discuss the movies."

Riz immediately begs for an invite to this party and I must add my voice to the chorus. Can you imagine? I want her to show off some photos of the characters she's dressed up as! Anyway check out the entire chat over here; it's not nearly long enough though -- I could've read them talking for hours.

Thursday's Ways Not To Die

Ever since I first saw Dario Argento's 1980 film Inferno -- and we're not talking decades here, because as I admitted here on the site in 2017 I had somehow tricked myself into thinking I'd seen Inferno but I hadn't, not until 2017 anyway -- I have wanted to do one of my "Thursday's Ways Not To Die" posts for this scene in Inferno. The problem is... this scene doesn't make any sense. Which is half the appeal, and ninety-percent of why I love it. A scene not making any sense is when Argento gets his most interesting, usually! But...

... this scene really doesn't make any sense. And to top that off it's hard to tell what's happening half the time because the scene is dark. But I love it so, and we're talking Rat Scenes in movies this week for our "13 Rats of Halloween" series, so I'm gonna try to describe what you're seeing, beforehand, and then just let the images speak for themselves. 

So here's the sort-of gist. Inferno abandons main characters like trash, every few scenes, which is another thing I love about it, but at this point this character seen here standing on crutches in the middle of a Central Park pond is a book dealer, one who has just given our momentary main character the old book that details The Three Mothers mythology (i.e. the mythology behind Argento's films Suspiria, Inferno, and Mother of Tears). After he's done that he has, for some reason, decided to stuff a sack full of cats and to then take this sack of cats to a pond in Central Park to drown them. I said what I said!

I suppose the moon is making everybody crazy, is the idea, but really it's just inexplicable. But the moon does become more important in just a second, because as our nasty cat-drowning friend here does his nasty cat-drowning business, an eclipse happens over New York!

I should add that I also really wanted to do this scene for my (semi-aborted) "City en Scène" series too, where I talk about movie scenes that I think about when I walk around New York, because whenever I walk by this pond in Central Park I think about this scene now, looking for sacks of drowned kitties and swarms of red-eyed flesh-hungry rodents. Oh right. The rats!

The eclipse makes the rats go nuts too, and
of course the man on crutches suddenly falls over...

... and the rats do their business. 
Their dirty ratty business.

The other day when I started this "13 Rats of Halloween" series I said that rats don't bug me too much (not like bugs) but even I'll admit that that drain-pipe swarming with them is a real fucking disgusting sight. Anyway because this is an Argento movie the rats aren't even how this man actually dies. Argento's death scenes have as many twists and turns as a roller-coaster collapsing into the ocean. So the rats are eating the cat-killing bookseller, he's screaming his head off as one does while one is being eaten by rats, when lo - a hero appears!

The large man holding the large knife and slicing up hot dogs in his hot dog truck in the middle of the night in the middle of Central Park hears his cries! What could possibly go wrong? 

"Thank goodness you're here, Mr. Hot Dog Man!"

Inferno (1980)

It's only in typing all of this delightful gibberish out that I realized that Argento manages to get the whole cartoon food chain of animals involved in this scene -- there are Cats (in a sack), there are Mice (well rats but whatever), and there are Dogs (of the between-two-buns hot dog variety). It's basically one of those Tom & Jerry episodes that had the dog in it...

... just Argento-fied. It's all very goofy and I adore it, which is how you can sum up most of my relation to Argento's work. I can't believe I didn't see this film until three years ago! I know people are mixed on this one but it shot right up among my faves -- I really love the way it just keeps killing off its main characters, baton-handing the narrative off and leaving us unbalanced, and I really really love the visuals, which are as neon-wacky as Suspiria's but darker, grimier -- deeply appropriate for a movie mostly set in New York in the 1980s. Any Inferno fans out there?

Hit the jump
for links to all of the previous Ways Not To Die...

Indiana Twink

Tom Holland has just premiered the first photo of Tom Holland playing the adventurer Nathan Drake in the big-screen video-game adaptation Uncharted via his Insta -- I have never played that game because I don't play games except little puzzles on my phone during my subway commute or occasionally some Mario Kart. But I understand Uncharted to be a kind of Indiana Jones rip-off, just twinkier, correct me if I'm wrong. Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame is directing this, and Tom's joined by Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas -- filming had been interrupted by the pandemic I think, so who knows what the timeline is anymore -- I know Tom's also supposedly supposed to have been filming the next Spider-man movie right around now too, so I don't know what's happening. There's your headline. I don't know what's happening. Oh except one thing I do know is I never shared those photos of Tom recently spied half-naked in public here on the site, but I did share a few over on the Tumblr, I do know that. Hey it something.

Five Frames From ?

What movie is this?

Good Morning, World

The actor Kyle Gallner posted the above video on his birthday one year ago today, but I'm sharing it today, on his birthday 2020-style, because it only recently came to my attention -- thanks to the crazy fun film Dinner in America which I watched for the Nightstream Festival a week or two ago...

... that I love him. Oh I'd loved him on Veronica Mars back in the day, but that was... in a different way than I am speaking of now. Where has my mind been all this time? I have been missing the eff out. I really recommend taking a deep dive into his Instagram, which is all tank tops and babies and puppies and him being crazy adorable. Just spend the whole day there. You got something better to do? Yeah I thought so. Happy birthday, Kyle!

View this post on Instagram

Little preview of a Photoshoot I did.

A post shared by Kyle Gallner (@kylegface) on

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

This is Majors Country Now

(See more of this Jonathan Majors shoot here.) My brain hit a road-block about two-thirty this afternoon and I've been unable to form, you know, sentences, or thoughts, ever since -- so goes the way o the world in 2020! Anyway that's where I have been -- blandly staring at Twitter and then the clock, then back at Twitter, then back at the clock -- in case you've been a'wonderin'. But here's a thing I can post without it taking a lot of mental power -- what did y'all think about Lovecraft Country...

... which just finished its first season this weekend? I dug it a lot, even while recognizing it was maybe not the masterpiece something like Watchmen was -- there were big tonal swings that didn't always pay off and the show was very rarely genuinely scary, mistaking bombast and CG critters for actual mood, which is almost an unforgivable sin when "Lovecraft" is right there in the title. But the show was fun and I liked all of the actors and their characters, which is no small feat. And the ways it challenged Lovecraft's deep-seated racism and fear of the other was obviously its best selling point. I just hope they can actually be scary when they get a second season! Anyway I scrounged up a small handful of on-set photos of Majors and his co-lead Jurnee Smollett, who made for just about the most stunning couple on TV today, after the jump...