Friday, March 22, 2019

Us

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 4:29 AM

Lupita Nyong'o turns in a performance for the ages in Us.
  • Lupita Nyong'o turns in a performance for the ages in Us.
People don’t know how to react to Jordan Peele.

I was fortunate enough to get a preview of Us with an audience, and if you’ve ever been to a horror movie with a mostly black crowd in Memphis, you know it’s one of the greatest filmgoing experiences you can possibly have. To put it politely, people are loud and opinionated. If your movie sucks, you’re going to know about it.

Us scared the crap out of that audience, while also keeping them in stitches. When Peele really started to turn the screws, the audience reacted with a kind of scream-laugh, as if half of them were watching The Exorcist and the other half was watching Monty Python. Maybe they were both right.

Peele’s big screen directorial debut, Get Out, was an epoch-making art horror that built political allegory on a solid psychological horror foundation. Us is not overtly political — or at least, not overtly about white supremacy like Get Out. It’s tempting to call it a genre exercise, but it’s more like a genre expansion. Peele went diving deep to the subconscious to find the scariest images possible — our self image.
Nyong'o does double duty as hero and villain.
  • Nyong'o does double duty as hero and villain.
The heart of the film is a stunning performance by Lupita Nyong’o, doing double duty as both protagonist and antagonist. As Adelaide, she lays a veneer of normalcy over a deep well of trauma. We first meet Adelaide as a child (played by Madison Curry) on a tense night in 1986 at the Santa Cruz boardwalk (famously featured in The Lost Boys) with her father (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) and mother (Ann Diop). She wanders into a funhouse with the evocative name Shaman’s Vision Quest and, in the hall of mirrors, meets herself. Peele builds tension with pacing and visual composition, shooting the carnival like Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. He uses stillness and symmetry to unnerve.

When we meet Adelaide as a grown-up, she has a loving, if goofy, husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and two kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright) and Jason (Evan Alex). The upper-middle-class family goes to their beach house for summer vacation, and for a little while Gabe is the star of an awkward dad comedy. He drags the family back to the Santa Cruz boardwalk to hang out with his friend Josh (Tim Heidecker, louting deliciously). Adelaide, already on edge, is forced to make small talk with Josh's wife Kitty, played by Elizabeth Moss having the time of her life swilling rosé and asking all the wrong questions. Then, after the trip has turned into the worst beach visit since Jaws, a duplicate family shows up in their driveway. Peele switches gears and a slasher dynamic takes over. He makes a feint towards torture porn before transitioning into a fast zombie scenario. Finally, with an echo of the church door shot from Prince Of Darkness, Us blossoms into full John Carpenter paranoia mode.
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There is a hint of Tarantino postmodern pastiche going on here, but it’s not empty referencing. Peele isn’t showing off his knowledge, he just doesn’t give a damn about your genre expectations. He’s incredibly fluent in the cinematic languages of suspense, horror, and comedy, and he’s remixing them according to his own muse. Most importantly, Peele is not just using not just using images for visual inspiration, he grasps the meaning of the images. When he frames Nyong’o in a brightly lit doorway like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers, it means that she is leaving human society behind, probably for good. But Peele subtly reverses the shot — Ethan was leaving civilization to wander the wilderness, while Adelaide is descending into inner darkness.

Us roots itself in the subconscious from the get-go, and then weaponizes it against you. As Red, Adelaide’s scratchy-voiced doppleganger, Nyong’o is like a walking anxiety dream. She’s regret about the road not taken mixed with the call of the void and armed with a pair of cruel shears.

Ultimately, the most important artist Peele references is himself: The image from Get Out of tears streaming down a black face frozen in silent horror, unable to look away, recurs (at least) twice, with both Adelaide and Red. The pair are tethered together, doomed by forces they don’t understand to enact psychic and physical violence on each other. We cannot escape or bury the darkness in our subconscious, and even trying invites disaster. We have met the enemy, and she is Us.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Black Metal Chaos, A Return to the Abyss, and Gregory Peck on Memphis Film Screens This Week

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 3:49 PM

Lords of Chaos
  • Lords of Chaos
It's a diverse week of offerings on Memphis cinema screens.

Tonight, Crosstown Arts' current resident artist Pierre Primetens will curate a selection of short films from Portugal. It's a free show, but you can RSVP at the Indie Memphis website.

Tomorrow, Wednesday March 20, at Malco Ridgeway, Lords of Chaos makes it Memphis debut. The long-gestating film is an adaptation of the book by the same name that tells the story of of the birth of black metal in Norway in the late 80s/early 90s. Rory Culkin stars as Euronymous, the founder of Mayhem, a band which started out in the traditional fashion of a bunch of misfits trying to make a mark by creating a new sound. But in the band house near Krakstad, Norway, things got strange and dark quickly. When Mayhem's first vocalist Per "Dead" Ohlin was found dead of an apparent suicide, Euronymous used the crime scene photos of his friends dead body as an album cover, and made chunks of his skull into jewelry. Members of the musical movement started a record label, burned Christian churches, and engaged in high profile blood feuds. In 1993, Euronymous was stabbed to death by Varg Vikernes, a musician on his label who killed him either for Satanic religious reasons or over a dispute about record royalties, depending on which source you believe. The film adaptation of the story is directed by Jonas Akerlund, who himself played in the proto-black metal band Bathory before moving on to direct music videos like Madonna's "Ray Of Light" and the legendary "Smack My Bitch Up" for Prodigy. Tickets are available on the Indie Memphis website. 


Across town at the Paradiso on Wednesday, the anime feature Made In Abyss: Journey's Dawn premieres. It's a sequel film to the series that was a breakout hit in Japan last year.


Sunday March 25 at the Paradiso, TCM hosts a screening of the classic adaptation of the Harper Lee novel To Kill A Mockingbird. Gregory Peck got a Best Actor Academy Award  for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. In this clip, you'll see 10-year-old Mary Badham as Scout, who, in 1962, became the youngest person to ever be nominated for an acting Oscar. (She was eventually dethroned a decade later by Tatum O'Neil, who won at age 9 for Paper Moon.)


See you at the movies! 

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Music Video Monday: Stephen Chopek

Posted By on Mon, Mar 18, 2019 at 11:12 AM

Music Video Monday is gonna rock you!
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Stephen Chopek, Memphis' one-man music video studio, is back with his latest epic. "Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah" is from his new EP, "Songs of Shane", a collection of covers of songs by Irish rockers the Pogues. Chopek arranged, performed, and recorded the album, and displayed an impressive acting range in the music video.


If you'd like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Climax

Posted By on Sat, Mar 16, 2019 at 4:18 PM

Sophia Boutella having good, clean, family fun in Climax.
  • Sophia Boutella having good, clean, family fun in Climax.
Cast parties. You know how they go. You’ve been spending time rehearsing with this small group of people, and it’s been hard, but things are finally coming together. It’s time to blow off a little steam, with some music, light snacks, and sangria. Deep conversations and dancing happen, then some flirtations escalate to hookups. Everyone has a bit too much to drink and wakes up with a headache the next day and pretends to be scandalized when they find out who hooked up. The team is bonded, and friendships are forged and reinforced. Such is the function of the cast party.

This is the plan with the unnamed French dance troupe in Climax. They’re about to embark on an American tour, and the show is tight. Director Gaspar Noé shoots their routine in the first and greatest of many long, swooping takes to come — imagine Rope set at a rave. Because what do professional dancers do for fun? They dance more. Especially when they’re sucking down the excellent sangria made by tour manager Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull).

But some parties go beyond the healthy and fun to another level. You get the hint that this soiree is headed in a bad direction from the opening shot, a long drone track of a wounded dancer wandering in the snow, which tells you it’s actually the last shot in the film by fading into the closing credits, which come before the actual opening credits. Yeah, it’s one of the those movies. Arthouse pretension oozes from Climax’s every pulsating, sweaty pore. As one of the periodic flurries of text on screen puts it, “This is a French film and proud of it!”

Anyway, the first sign that the party is taking a dark turn is when one of the dancers pulls the old “I don’t have any cocaine, but that person over there does. They’re going to deny it, but don’t believe them, and don’t tell them I told you about their secret stash” trick. The conversations turn spacier and darker, and the dancing becomes even more frenzied. Things move from the “Is she having a good time?” phase to the “I think she’s having too good a time, because she just peed herself” phase. That’s the point when choreographer Selva (Sofia Boutella) figures out that somebody put LSD in the sangria, bumping the party phase up to “Cold War-era chemical warfare experiment”. 
In Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman described Climax as "Fame shot by the Marquis de Sade with a Steadicam".
  • In Variety, critic Owen Gleiberman described Climax as "Fame shot by the Marquis de Sade with a Steadicam".
As Belgian cinematographer Benoit Debie (familiar from Spring Breakers) swoops and dives his camera through non-Euclidian angles, the party escalates through the “Is she still breathing?” phase into the “Lord Of The Flies LARP” phase. Debie’s philosophy in the film’s final act is, sure, this shot looks cool but wouldn’t it be cooler if it were upside down?

Gaspar Noé made his reputation as a provocateur with Irreversible and Enter The Void, which opened with another vivid psychedelic trip sequence. His earlier works all had a tinge of dare to them, as in “I dare you to face this horror.” There’s quite a bit of shallow button-pushing as Climax builds to its climax, but the director at least makes an attempt to balance it out with the joyous and technically daring early dance sequences. The outstanding soundtrack mixes new electronica from the likes of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter with classics from Aphex Twin and M/A/R/R/S. (And isn’t it amazing that, after thirty years, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?” remains a signifier of New Wave naughtiness?)

Still, there’s no escaping the notion that the whole exercise is just an excuse for Noé to hang out with a bunch of dancers and do a lot of drugs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially given the huge cast of prime dance talent he has assembled, and the obvious quality of the drugs. It’s certainly a step up from the torturing innocent women to elicit sympathy sub-genre that Irreversible was an example of. Plus, it’s fun to vicariously hang around with all these cool Euro trash girls — at least until they start setting each other on fire.

Like other psychedelic film journeys, such as Easy Rider and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, the trippy peaks are thrilling, but the comedown is brutal. As the camera swoops from one blossoming psychedelic crisis to the next, all the plotless decadence starts to blur together. By the time it’s finally revealed who spiked the punch with ye ole lysergic, you can be excused if you have forgotten that it was even a question in the first place.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Back To The Future Trilogy at the Time Warp Drive-In

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 4:27 PM

Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steambergen, and Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future 3
  • Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steambergen, and Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future 3
Saturday, March 16 at the Malco Summer Drive-In, the Time Warp Drive-In kicks of the spring season with a Back To The Future marathon.

What can you say about the Back To The Future trilogy that hasn't been said already, probably by better minds than yours? That it's great? The first film, released in 1985, is considered to be the endpoint of what critic Keith Phipps called the "Laser Age", the fertile and fascinating period of science fiction filmmaking that began in 1968 with Planet Of The Apes. Stephen Spielberg protegée Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale had been working on the concept for years before the unexpected success of Romancing The Stone and Amblin Entertainment's war chest from E.T. allowed them to make the risky film that became a modern classic. This trailer, which should be taught in Trailer School (if they have such a thing) doubtlessly contributed to the film's financial success.


There wasn't supposed to be a sequel to Back To The Future, but after it made $389 million on a $19 million budget, plans changed. To save money and make scheduling easier, the team decided to shoot 2 and 3 back to back. There ended up being a three-week overlap where two crews were working simultaneously, with Zemeckis helming one and Gale the other. This approach would later be revisited by Peter Jackson when he compressed all three Lord Of The Rings movies into one mammoth filming schedule.

1989's Back To The Future 2 may not have the emotional resonance for some folks as the first one, but it's a big-budget filmmaking masterclass. It was the storied visual effects company Industrial Light and Magic's biggest production up until then. The script is an improbable mess that has to stop in the middle and literally draw the audience a diagram to explain what's going on—and yet somehow it works! Maybe because the story, which takes place in 1985 and the then-future, now-past of 2015, asks the absurd question, "What if someone like Donald Trump was president? Wouldn't that suck?" Indeed it would.


Back To The Future 3, which moves the action to 1885, seems to exist mostly so Zemekis and Gale can riff on Western tropes. But it turns out to be an inspired bit of visual filmmaking, and the favorite of some fans of the trilogy. Personally, I love how the entire third act is designed around Mary Steenburgen's purple dress, which pops out of the brown-on-brown palette of the Old West.
Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton runs through peril for about half of her screen time in Back To The Future 3.
  • Mary Steenburgen as Clara Clayton runs through peril for about half of her screen time in Back To The Future 3.
Once you see it, you can't unsee it. Just watch how that one, seemingly simple wardrobe choice helps bring visual coherence to this chaotic action scene.


Here's the trailer that introduced the film in 1990.


The Time Warp Drive-In Back To The Future night begins at dusk on Saturday. 

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

MXT vs IMAX: Which Big Screen Format Is Better?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 3:14 PM

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In Malco’s newest theater, the Powerhouse Cinema Grill, the region’s dominant theater chain debuted a new theater design they call MXT. In December 2016, theater one in the Malco Paradiso was converted to IMAX. The giant screen and booming sound system is generally considered to be the gold standard of theatrical film viewing experience. At the Powerhouse press tour on March 7th, Malco representatives were touting MXT as superior to IMAX.

Is that true? Well, it's complicated. Creating a viewing experience is really more a matter of finding the best solution to a set of variables than it is simply buying the perfect equipment and plugging it in. Some of my best film memories are from squinting at a CRT in a dorm room, and I’ve had painful viewing experiences put on by supposed professionals. It’s all relative. As I tell young filmmakers when they ask about cameras, the best one is the one you know how to use.

Your average living room HD flatscreen presents an image that measures 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. If you sprung for a 4K TV last Christmas, you’re looking at a 4096 X 2160 pixel picture. The current highest possible resolution outside of a lab is 70 mm IMAX film. That venerable format, familiar from museum settings and Disney World, is said to be the equivalent of 8K digital video. But that number is a rough estimate at best, as comparing digital video to analog is apples to oranges. Most digital cinema screens installed in the last 10 years use 2K (2048 X 1080) projectors, which provide more than three times as much “visual information” over a much larger area than your home HD set. Digital IMAX screens, like the one at the Paradiso, generally use a pair of proprietary 2K projectors working together, which greatly increases the light and provides a stereo visual channel for 3D, but doesn’t significantly increase the resolution.

But projector resolution is only one variable. If you’ve got a 4K TV, but the movie you’re watching was shot on a 2K camera, those extra pixels aren’t going to do you much good. Even on a big home screen with a clean signal, the difference between a 1080HD and a 4K screen is not going to be terribly apparent to casual viewers. Only when you blow the image up to theater size will you begin to see a significant difference.

You might have done a little mental math earlier and come to the conclusion that conventional 35mm film stock would have a higher pixel resolution than the 2K digital projectors that replaced them. But once again, that’s comparing apples to oranges. The intricacies of information theory notwithstanding, digital projection as a whole has been an improvement, says Malco Theaters Regional Director of Digital Operations Scott Barden. Film projectors are fragile, complicated machines, and celluloid film runs the risk of damage every time it’s run through one. Yes, a pristine print on a finely tuned and perfectly maintained film projector with a brand new bulb will probably look better than 2K digital projection, but that has always a rare set of circumstances in the real world. Barden says digital projection has allowed Malco, who, unlike many theater chains, take their presentation seriously, to present a more consistent product to audiences.

Where IMAX has an advantage over conventional theater projection is in the control of the variables. The screens are huge, and the theaters are custom built to take advantage of the unique, curved geometry of the IMAX. Until last week, theater one in the Paradiso was the undisputed champion of the city’s screening rooms.

The new MXT theater in the Powerhouse Cinema Grill is built like a conventional theater. Malco VP Karen Melton said its screen is virtually identical to pre-IMAX Paradiso theater one. But the projector is a brand-new, state of the art 4K laser phosphor model. The new projector presents a number of advantages for the theater. For decades, the heart of the projector has been a xenon light bulb of enormous power. They work great, but they have a number of disadvantages. First, a lot of the electricity fed into the bulb is wasted, as it is converted to heat instead of light. All that access heat has to be removed from the projector through a vent that goes through the roof of the theater. Lasers are much more efficient at producing light, and so produce a lot less heat, which can be dissipated without sawing a hole in the ceiling. Second, the expensive bulbs wear out, losing lumens over time until they eventually have to be replaced. Running one full blast will result in rapid degradation. “We typically run xenon lamps at a certain level so we get a very even drop off of the light level,” says Barden. “You don’t really notice over time. There’s not going to be a big drop off a the end, the way we run the bulbs.”
Fresh out of the box! The newly-installed 4K laser-phosphor projector at the heart of the Powerhouse's MXT theater.
  • Fresh out of the box! The newly-installed 4K laser-phosphor projector at the heart of the Powerhouse's MXT theater.
The laser-phosphor projector uses high wattage blue lasers fired through a constantly changing matrix of color filters to produce an image. More light makes it to the screen, and there’s no bulb to burn out, which greatly reduces maintenance costs.

Last Thursday, the stars aligned such that I was able to make a direct comparison between the two systems. I watched the Live Aid sequence from Bohemian Rhapsody on the Powerhouse MXT screen, then caught the Captain Marvel premiere at the Paradiso IMAX.

Which one was better? Visually, I would call it a toss up. The clarity and color of the image from the MXT 4K laser projector is mind blowing. But that IMAX theater architecture really does have a big effect. For Captain Marvel, I bought my ticket only 10 days in advance, so I was stuck in seat A-13—front row center, and it was fine. It’s true there are no bad seats in that theater.

The big difference was the sound, where MXT has the advantage. In keeping with their goals of creating an immersive experience, IMAX is configured to maximize the subwoofer boom effect. Rattling the chest makes those big explosions feel more visceral. Malco opted to pair a Dolby Atmos system with the 4K laser projector in the MXT theater. “The audio is something we wanted to do specifically for large format,” says Barden. “It’s got full Dolby Atmos, a 38-channel surround sound system, which is spectacular for the auditorium.”

For creating an immersive experience, I’d much rather have Atmos than 3D. With the exceptions of Avatar, The Walk, and Alita: Battle Angel, 3D has never risen from gimmick to art form for me. But you should never underestimate the power of great sound design. The entire horror genre is practically built on it.
Inside the MXT theater.
  • Inside the MXT theater.
For me, the bottom line comes down to the source material. If some or all of the film you’re going to see was shot in the IMAX format, such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, then you should see it in the IMAX theater. For any other film, including big Hollywood productions such as the digitally shot Marvel and Star Wars franchises, I would choose the superior sound at the Powerhouse MXT. But unless you’re a nerd like me, either theater is going to deliver a good experience — as long as the movie is good. Which is something else entirely.

[This piece was edited to clean up errant pixel counts.]

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Music Video Monday: AWFM ft. Hannya Chaos and PreauXX

Posted By on Mon, Mar 11, 2019 at 11:53 AM

Music Video Monday seeks clarity.
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Rap supernaut A Weirdo From Memphis is back with the second clip from his latest Unapologetic EP, "You Goin' To Jail Now". This time it's an old-school club banger, and he brought along MCs PreauXX and Hannya Chaos, and the whole Unapologetic crew for good measure. The video was directed by 35Miles and cut by FILOSOFI. "'FYM' is a song made by Memphis people to jump around to. It’s designed to be played loud as fuck while you crash into people or do fun stuff," says AWFM.

 Be warned, "FYM" by AWFM is NSFW. So put on those headphones before tearing up your club-icle.


If you'd like to see your music video featured on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Friday, March 8, 2019

Captain Marvel

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2019 at 1:48 PM

Brie Larson (center) is perfectly adequate as Captain Marvel.
  • Brie Larson (center) is perfectly adequate as Captain Marvel.
Maybe the best part about making a Captain Marvel movie is that you don’t have to care about continuity or canon, because, where that particular character is concerned, there basically isn’t any.

I knew the basic outlines of the saga of Captain Marvel, but in boning up for the Big Movie Event (TM), I dove into the story, and it’s more convoluted than I remembered. Captain Marvel was a Superman knock off, created the year after Action Comics #1 was published, who became the most popular comic book character of the 1940s. After Detective Comics (DC) sued the tights off Fawcett Comics, they took control of the character and changed the name to Shazam, which had been Captain Marvel’s catchphrase. Meanwhile, Marvel comics figured they need Captain Marvel for obvious reasons, and made a legally questionable deal with the smoking ruins of Fawcett to introduce their own Captain Marvel. Marvel’s Marvel never really caught on, but the terms of their contract said they had to publish at least every two years or lose the copyright, so they kept rebooting the character for decades. Captain Marvel has been an alien super soldier, a New Orleans cop, a clone, the sister of a clone, and some other stuff. She’s been a woman on and off since about 1982, but DC already beat them to that punch with their only good movie, Wonder Woman. So as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned, they could go nuts with Captain Marvel—if they wanted to.
Say what again to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
  • Say what again to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.
Maybe it would have been better if they had gone nuts. But the MCU has reached such a state of complexity, story wise, that many of Captain Marvel’s beats have been preordained for years. Ironically, in the light of the post-Oscar kerfuffle about Netflix productions not really being movies, but rather TV productions that should instead be eligible for Emmys, the theatrical business’ current cash cow is basically a TV series in its last season. (Further evidence of the film/TV narrative convergence: The final season of Game of Thrones will be six episodes, each as long as a feature film.) This prompts the question I’ve seen on social media: “Will I enjoy Captain Marvel if I’ve only seen less than half of the Marvel movies?” The answer is, sure, if you like going to the movies, you’ll probably dig it. The craftsmanship is impeccable, the actors likable, lasers are blasted, stuff blows up real good, and there’s a cute kitty. Besides, after Avengers: Infinity Wars, we all know how it ends, right? The ship sinks, and Captain Marvel is the deus ex machina.
Surf's up for Ben Mendolsohn as Talos the Skrull.
  • Surf's up for Ben Mendolsohn as Talos the Skrull.
Playing the infinitely powered god in the well-oiled Marvel machine is Brie Larson, one of her generation's finest screen actresses, stacking that paper. The current comic Captain Marvel (who is actually younger than the MCU) is a test pilot turned irradiated super-being Carol Danvers, so Larson plays her as basically a gender flipped Chuck Yeager. She’s got a few wooden moments here and there, but really shines in the middle passage, when the film becomes a buddy cop movie between an amnesiac uberwoman and a digitally de-aged Samuel L. Jackson as young, binocular Nick Fury.

This is, of course, a “hero finding her powers” origin story, but it’s not quite by the numbers. What writer/director team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck get right here is Danvers’ shifting identity, and uncertainty of who, exactly, the good guys and bad guys are. This gives Ben Mendelsohn, who previously worked with Boden and Fleck on Mississippi Grind, a lot to chew on as the shapeshifting Talos the Skrull. Annette Bening was no doubt happy to add “Supreme Intelligence” to her IMDB listing. She, Jude Law as Kree commando Yon-Rogg, and Clark Gregg as beloved Colsen, Agent of Shield, are all welcome presences. Lashana Lynch is good as Danvers’ human partner Maria Rambeau—a character who herself was Captain Marvel in the mid-’80s.
Sometimes Brie Larson glows.
  • Sometimes Brie Larson glows.
I’ve said before that all you need to do to get a good review out of me is to get the fundamentals right, and Captain Marvel certainly does that. It’s a state-of-the-art entertainment product, just like Alita: Battle Angel, the other $150 million film currently in theaters about a woman with amnesia who turns out to be a morally compromised alien super soldier with a heart of gold. Only this one has more familiar branded characters from Disney. Enjoy, consumers!

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Music Video Monday: Snazzy-Line ft. Ryan Peel, Webbstar & Rico

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 11:13 AM


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Feeling snazzy this Music Video Monday? You're not alone.

Memphian Ryan Peel sends us this music video from Japanese artist Snazzy-Line (aka Hidetaka Fujiki).

"Hidetaka initially flew to Nashville to make his record, but after some organizational issues, was sent to me by a mutual friend. Then, sight unseen, Fujiki rode a bus to Memphis and we began creating his album! Fast forward a few months and one more round-trip flight from Japan, Hidetaka returned to finish up the rest of his record and I hosted an event (30for$30) to showcase his music and shoot this accompanying music video. This was an incredible experience for both of us and I was able to employ multiple Memphis artists to complete the vision: Rico Fields (Negro Terror), Derek Brassel (Black Cream), Stephanie Doll McCoy (Adajyo), and WEBBSTAR."

Shot and edited by Josh Collins and Bronson Worthy, here is "Life Of The Party":


If you'd like to see your music video featured on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Apollo 11

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 11:11 AM

Who has two thumbs and just landed on the dang moon?
  • Who has two thumbs and just landed on the dang moon?

Anyone who thinks the moon landings were fake should see Apollo 11.

The moon race was a unique kind of Cold War competition. The technologies of war and mass destruction were redirected towards peaceful exploration. The contest was not who could kill more, but who could go farther. And for once, that exploration was victimless.

There were no indigenous populations in space — at least, none that we know of — to displace. The Apollo program was an intersection of state propaganda, engineering, and science. That means that it was documented every step of the way by the most advanced photographic equipment available. Unlike other major historical events, many of the artifacts produced were cataloged with an archivist’s care in real time. There’s more real, verifiable, physical evidence that we went to the moon that there is of your birth.

Every so often, NASA gets the footage out of the nitrogen-filled vaults where it is intended to last until the fall of technological civilization and gives some filmmakers, armed with the latest video and audio technology, a crack at it. The last time this happened was in 1989, with For All Mankind, a film cut together from Apollo archival footage and contemporary interviews with the astronauts. It’s an amazing documentary that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was nominated for an Academy Award. But that film has been overshadowed by its score, an instant ambient classic by the creator of the genre, Brian Eno.

Apollo 11 premiered at Sundance 30 years after For All Mankind. Instead of offering an impressionistic interpretation of the entire three-year lunar exploration program, the new film focuses on the first moon landing. All the footage is from the two weeks around July 20th, 1969, when the attention of the world was focused on Cape Kennedy and the sky above.

Director/Editor Todd Douglas Miller had access to all of NASA’s archives of 16mm, 35mm film, and hours upon hours of audio recording. Incredibly, the team even uncovered some previously unseen 70mm footage taken by a NASA documentary crew wandering through the crowds gathered on the beach to watch the launch. Ordinary people gathered to watch history in the making turns out to be some of the most compelling footage from a film where people land on the moon.

All of these sources were digitized in the highest possible resolution, color corrected, and transferred to IMAX size. It’s a good reminder of the resolution possible from even 16mm film. The images you’ve seen, like the long slow pan up the Saturn V, are stunningly rendered here. But there are lots of footage that have never been seen before, like the closed circuit video footage of the astronauts climbing into the elevator. The haunted look on Neil Armstrong’s face as he suits up makes a good argument for Ryan Gosling’s emo spaceman performance in First Man. The spacecraft, blown up to IMAX size, look like steampunk contraptions from a different age. The walls of the lunar module are clearly as thin as aluminum foil, and flex madly in space when a thruster washes across them. You can clearly see the reflection of Buzz Aldrin in the window as he films Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon.

Miller’s editing is uncannily good. He takes inspiration from the other great cultural documentary about 1969, Woodstock, and uses splitscreen liberally and effectively. While not nearly the equal of Eno’s Atmospheres, Matt Morton's score, created using vintage synthesizers, throbs and booms majestically. The film is a masterpiece of visual storytelling that is destined to have a very long life in educational and science center IMAXes all over the world.

It is a melancholy experience to watch the triumphs of Apollo 11 in 2019. This is what We The People could accomplish if we put our minds to it. And yet we have a Russian-installed gangster in the White House helping as the super rich loot the country. We have a scientific challenge that needs addressing with the same urgency as the space race, and much larger stakes. But we have a climate change denier in charge who wants only to profit from the destruction of technological civilization.

Back to the moon landing conspiracy theorists. There’s no way what we see in Apollo 11 was faked. The scale of it is just too big, and the results too haphazard. It’s obvious most of Apollo 11 was shot by people with very little cinematographic training. Kubrick’s vision of space travel was clean, hygienic, and effortless. Apollo 11 is dirty and precarious.

I think it’s significant that the moon landing conspiracy theory first surfaced in its modern form on Fox television in 1999. If a simple hour of deceptively edited TV could erase from the minds of millions the greatest propaganda triumph of the twentieth century, then the sky was the limit.

Now we have people being manipulated into believing Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile ring is based in a DC pizza joint. The trick is not to erase the images you don’t want, or even create fake images. It’s to convince your marks to reinterpret all images in the way the propagandist wants you to interpret them. Meaning itself is systematically destroyed. Apollo 11 simply strives to reconstruct the events from the existing evidence. And for that simplicity, it might be one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Nicholas Roeg and Nubia Yasin On The Cinema Screen This Week in Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Feb 26, 2019 at 3:12 PM

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Legendary director and cinematographer Nicholas Roeg passed away last year at age 90.

He was the second unit cinematographer on Lawrence of Arabia, and was then promoted to full director of photography for David Lean's epic follow-up, Dr. Zhivago. But he and Lean clashed on set, and he was quickly fired.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Roeg went straight to the director's chair himself, and stayed there. His first film as helmer was Performance, a stylish look at swinging '60s London that starred Mick Jagger. He went on to direct David Bowie in his signature role, The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Last Wednesday, Indie Memphis started a mini-tribute to Roeg with Walkabout, a gorgeously shot 1971 film set in Australia that maintains a strong cult following.

This Wednesday at Studio on the Square, they will screen Roeg's influential 1973 horror film Don't Look Now. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a married couple looking for psychic answers in Italy after their daughter accidentally drowns. It includes a controversial sex scene and some serious scary face from Sutherland. Get those tickets here.



Across town at the Malco Ridgeway, the Morris and Mollye Fogelman International Jewish Film Festival concludes with the French film A Bag of Marbles (Un sac de billes). Based on the memoir of Joseph Joffo, Christian Duguay's 2017 movie is a story of friendship between two young boys during the Nazi occupation of Europe.




Thursday at THE CMPLX, the big winner at the 2018 Indie Memphis Youth Festival, "Sensitive" by director Nubia Yasin and screenwriter Sage Scott, returns to the screen. The short film about a young Memphis man trying to live up to an elusive and toxic masculine ideal will be followed by a panel discussion with queer black men on their struggles for recognition and acceptance. The night will conclude with a feature film, 2011's Gun Hill Road

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Music Video Monday: K. Reese

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 11:13 AM

Roll into your week with Music Video Monday.
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This moodily lit video for "Moves" by hip hop artist K. Reese is some eye candy. Director Daniel R. Ferrell and cinematographer Jason Thibodeaux crush the blacks and light with creamy neon to give K. Reese's ode to cruising at night a perfect video setting.


If you'd like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Russian Doll

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 10:41 AM

Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll
  • Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll
Groundhog Day has become a touchstone of American comedy. It’s the go-to example of a film that can be both funny and philosophically profound. It’s telling that, while the film is so ingrained our culture that “Groundhog Day” has entered military slang for repetitive duty, no one has really tried to emulate it. Sure, time loops show up again and again in sci fi, but the comedians have left it alone. The tone is just too delicate, and the talents of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis too intimidating.

Russian Doll dares to riff on Groundhog Day, and your TV screen is all the better for it. Natasha Lyonne, who started out as a kid on Pee Wee’s Playhouse and has lately been an anchor of Orange Is The New Black, worked on the idea for ten years, enlisting Amy Poehler and writer Leslye Headland to bring it to fruition. Lyonne’s performance as Nadia Vulvokov, a self-destructive software engineer whom we meet in the bathroom at her 36th birthday party. The details of that party, thrown by her friend Maxine (Greta Lee) in her sprawling Manhattan loft, will become ingrained in her mind as she lives it over and over.

Lyonne’s performance is a revelation. Maybe that’s a weird thing to say about someone who has had such a varied career, but Nadia is an instant classic take on a caustic New Yorker. It’s extremely difficult to get that “magnificent bastard” chemistry just right, as the failure mode is “unsympathetic jerk”, which is why it’s remarkable that Lyonne’s Nadia is in the same league as Bill Murray’s Phil Conners. Murray’s speciality was the charming rake, and in Groundhog Day, he took it to the next level by gradually breaking down his character’s defenses until basic brokenness was all that remained. Nadia follows a similar trajectory, only she does it with all of the cultural expectations of niceness attached to being a woman—in other words, like Ginger Rogers, she does it backwards, and in heels.

I’m not going to say much about the plot, because deciphering the situation along with Nadia is half of Russian Doll’s deliciousness. But it’s already inspired dozens of different takes and interpretations, ranging from a metaphor for drug addiction and mental illness to an allegory of the gentrification of Downtown Manhattan. What’s important is, the writing is complex enough to support multiple interpretations, and it’s engaging enough to make you want to come up with your own.

In an era of streaming bloat, where stories can take unnecessary hours to unfold, Russian Doll’s episodes are 30 minutes each, and edited tight as a drum. The red herrings and thematic curlicues all seem relevant and necessary. And just when you think the writers have painted themselves into a corner, they they open another trapdoor and escape. Peeling back Russian Doll’s layers is the first great TV experience of 2019.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Music Video Monday: Impala

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 11:39 AM

Music Video Monday is kicking in the door to your week!
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Are you ready for a hard-boiled music video from Memphis surf gods Impala? Buckle in while Memphis Flyer cover model Rosalyn R. Ross solves the case of the missing painting in this boffo promo for "Double Indemnity" by expat Memphis filmmaker Edward Valibus.


If you'd like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com

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Friday, February 15, 2019

High School Magic and a Pam Grier Double Feature this Weekend at the Cinema

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2019 at 4:26 PM

Pam Grier as Jackie Brown
  • Pam Grier as Jackie Brown
Saturday is packed with cinematic treats this week.

First, at 10 a.m., a rare screening of a Memphis classic at Malco Studio on the Square. When What I Love About Concrete won the 2013 Best Hometowner Feature at Indie Memphis, it had been in production for several years. Filmmakers Brett Hannover, Alanna Stewart, and Katherine Dohan began the project while they were still in high school at White Station. As I said in my Indie Memphis' Greatest Hits article about the film, everyone thinks they should make a movie about the high school experience, but these folks actually did it, and their movie is much cooler than yours would have been. Somewhere between Sixteen Candles and A Wrinkle In Time, What I Love About Concrete is a must-see. And if you, or someone you know, is in grades 7-12, you can see it for free, and have a pizza lunch with the filmmakers, courtesy of the Indie Memphis young filmmakers program! Click here to sign up.

Then at sunset, the Time Warp Drive-In kicks off its sixth season with a tribute to actress Pam Grier. Quick, what's the best Quentin Tarantino movie? Time's up! It's Jackie Brown,  the Elmore Leonard adaptation QT wrote for Grier in the mid-90s. And there's no better place to see it than the Malco Summer Drive-In.


Then, Grier's breakthrough performance, the 1973 blackspoitation flick Coffy, in which she is an incredible bad ass.


Get out and see some flicks this weekend! 

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