Douce (1943)

As we’ve been working our way through Claude Autant-Lara’s set of romantic dramas produced during WWII in German-occupied France, the films have been understandably light in tone & effect. Autant-Lara seemed to be intentionally staging escapist fantasies during this era, providing an entertainment release valve for people who could use relief from the grim world outside. Although they’re both handsomely crafted, The Marriage of Chiffon is at heart a whimsical romcom about a teenage prankster and Lettres d’Amour functions as a political farce that climaxes with a You Got Served-style dance battle. Odette Joyeux is an adorable joy to watch in both instances, playing half her age as a merry teenager who disrupts social order in her anarchic pursuance of young romance. That’s why the third film in the series, Douce, is such a punch in the gut. There are certainly touches of escapist romance & mood-lightening comedy present in the film, but overall it operates more as a tragic, grim drama that deploys Joyeux’s apparent youthful innocence for a much more devastating effect.

Joyeux stars as a wealthy Parisian brat in Belle Époque France who risks the lives of her home’s working-class employees out of teenage boredom & romantic longing. Her governess is torn between the romantic intentions of her father & the man who works the stables, as Joyeux looks on in jealousy. The governess is at risk with either beau she chooses to entertain. The stable worker has a secretive extramarital past with her that precedes their employment in the house, which he threatens to expose at her refusal of his affections. The father, in turn, is asking her to marry outside her class at a time when those divisions were aggressively policed, both socially & legally. The real danger, however, is presented by Joyeux as the titular Douce, whose secret crush on the stableman & protective touchiness over her widower father puts the governess at great risk of losing her job & home, despite being pursued by these men through no fault of her own. Douce’s girlish romantic fantasies & petty jealousies turn an already precarious situation into an inevitable tragedy. She’s still as adorably youthful as always, but here in a context where that naivety is deadly dangerous.

That’s not to say there’s no escapist entertainment to be found in Douce. The film is set during the sentimentality-prone season of Christmastime, even opening with a snow-covered miniature of Paris to set the mood (including a mid-construction model of the Eiffel Tower in the foreground), as if the entire drama unfolds in a snow globe. There’s also consistent comedy to be found with Douce’s eternally grumpy grandmother, who polices the house’s class divisions with the incredulous self-bemusement of Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. For the most part, however, the film’s love triangle conflict is played for emotional devastation rather than socially anarchic laughs or romantic fantasy. That more dramatic intent is best evidenced by the film’s conclusion at a ballet performance that erupts into lethal, fiery chaos in a massive set piece counterbalance to the opening’s miniature. It’s a far cry from the hilarity of Lettres d’Amour’s climactic dance battle, one that is made all the more devastating when considered in contrast with the lighter fare Autant-Lara had established a pattern of delivering in the era. When considered as a part of a set, it’s a total tonal sucker punch.

Of course, comedy & romance aren’t the only modes of escapist entertainment; they’re just the most easily effective. Whenever I’m in a grim mood myself, I tend to seek out art that reflects & deepens that emotional state, so I can see how some audiences at the time could find escapist pleasure in sinking into someone else’s tragedy for the length of a film to distract from the grim realities of German wartime occupation outside the theater. The widower father suffers from an amputated leg as a result of a past war’s wound, but most of the film dwells in the sentimentality of Christmas and the high emotional stakes of unrequited love in a way that feels entirely divorced from the concerns of war. If all the films in this set are meant to be understood as escapist entertainment, Douce is one meant to satisfy the most morbid of Parisians, ones who’d prefer a weepie over a farce. It’s just as handsomely staged & playful as Autant-Lara’s other German-occupation romances, but its overall effect is exceptionally grim for that context.

-Brandon Ledet

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The Little Stranger (2018)

My general preference for finding cheap, immediate thrills in all of life’s pleasures can often make me feel like a cultural simpleton. Like when struggling to describe an exquisite meal or a fine wine with anything more than “It tastes good,” I’m often frustrated with films that are overly restrained, valuing subtlety & measured storytelling over “delivering the goods.” The Little Stranger has put me in my place as a cultural simpleton like no other work since the frustratingly delayed costume drama payoffs of last year’s Lady Macbeth. The Little Stranger is a ghostly work of Gothic literature atmosphere with an incredibly well-weaved story of class resentment, familial grief, and male entitlement. It’s also stubbornly withholding, deliberately avoiding depiction of the action, sex, and violence that typically entertains at the movies. Intellectually, I know that this restrained, subtle approach to storytelling is supposed to “elevate” the deeper pleasures of the Gothic horror genre above the cheap-thrill payoffs of lesser works like Winchester & The Nun. The thing is, though, that I’ve seen recent films in its genre that have managed to do both – be intellectually nourishing & deliver the Gothic horror goods (namely Beast & Marrowbone) – so that The Little Stranger’s eagerness to withhold can only leave me frustrated. Whether or not something’s nourishing, I still want it to taste good.

Because its genre thrills are muted & deliberately obscured, The Little Stranger’s strengths are nested in its two central performances. Ruth Wilson stars as the once-wealthy heiress of an early 20th Century estate in shambles, living out a Little Edie-style tragic decline in a British precursor to Grey Gardens. Domhnall Gleeson plays a local doctor who grew up far less privileged in the community surrounding the estate, possessed by the opulence it once promised before a family tragedy thrust it into decline. At first, the pair are perfectly matched in their own “misery loves company” way, finding less than little joy in the decaying home that haunts them. It’s the divide in the ways the home haunts them that causes a deadly rift, however. She desperately wants to escape a toxic home life of a once-wealthy family brought to ruins by decades of grief resulted from a past, hushed tragedy. The doctor wants to establish himself as a belonging member of that family. He’s possessed by the memory of the estate’s former greatness, unable to recognize the poisonous rubble it is in the present. The stagnation & resentment resulting from this tension manifests in ghostly, violent phenomena in the haunted home that binds them together. However, that violence is mostly obscured from the audience, who instead are left to stew in the quiet, relentless bitterness Wilson & Gleeson trade in slow-moving blows.

There is an early, shocking act of violence in The Little Stranger that bathes the screen in a child’s blood, setting an expectation for a much more explicit, rattling film than what’s to come. Instead of matching the visual intensity of that violence throughout, director Lenny Abrahamson traffics in the same slow-simmering resentment & grief he explored in Room & Frank. The ghostly violence of a typical Gothic horror is maintained mostly as a background atmosphere that flavors the much subtler social violence of class & gender. The Gothic horror genre is used to explore the lingering grief of past trauma here, although that trauma is varied depending on the characters’ relationship to the haunted estate. What’s withheld is the physical manifestation of that haunting, even when the paranormal violence’s mysterious source is revealed. The Little Stranger’s central narrative is well-considered in its themes and exquisitely performed in its resentment-barbed exchanges between Wilson & Gleeson. I just find it frustrating that Abrahamson couldn’t find room for both the subtle nuance of that character tension & the immediate thrills of physical violence as promised in the first-act shock. It’s that tendency to withhold as if restraint were more respectable than indulgence that keeps The Little Stranger at good-not-great for me, the same way that the year’s cheap-thrills Gothic horrors with shallow, pointless stories to tell are hindered by their inverse imbalance.

For those following along at home:

-Brandon Ledet

Good Neighbours (2011)

Three tenants in an apartment building located in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood begin to develop peculiar friendships with one another while a serial killer is on the loose. Louise (Emily Hampshire) is a quiet, timid cat lady who works at a Chinese restaurant. There are some pretty amazing shots of her going through the routine of feeding her two cats in her apartment. The cats start to meow, and Louise assumes they’re hungry. She then opens a can of cat food with her electric can opener and slops it on a plate for the kitties to enjoy. They continue to meow, and Louise says to herself something along the lines of, “Oh silly me, you two want to go outside!” and opens the window to let her cats roam around the apartment building. This routine occurs a couple of times throughout the film, and as a cat lady myself, I can’t help but relate to Louise. Cats are never satisfied, but we will go to the ends of the Earth to please them.

Louise has a friendship with her wheel-chair bound neighbor, Spencer (Scott Speedman), and the two share an interest news stories revolving around the serial killer terrorizing Montreal. When a new tenant, Victor (Jay Baruchel), moves into the building, Spencer and Louise aren’t very warm and welcoming to him. Victor has much more of a friendly, outgoing personality, so he is very eager to get to know Louise and Spencer. The three have dinner together, and it’s quite the awkward affair. Victor becomes romantically interested in Louise, but Louise is more interested in hanging out with Victor’s adorable feline friend. Unfortunately, not all tenants in their building are cat friendly. Their French neighbor, Valerie (Anne-Marie Cadieux), does not appreciate it when Louise’s cats climb on her balcony, and she is very aggressive when expressing her feelings about the situation. Not long after things between Louise and Valerie start to intensify, Louise’s cats go missing, and the film becomes much darker.

While Good Neighbours seems to be a thriller/horror film, it really isn’t. The film is more character-driven as there is such focus on the relationships between the three main characters. The cats in the film also get a decent amount of camera time, and they should, since the film’s more sinister events revolve around them.

-Britnee Lombas

Movies to See in New Orleans This Week 9/20/18 – 9/26/18

9/20/18 – 9/26/18

Here’s a quick rundown of the movies we’re most excited about that are screening in New Orleans this week.

Movies We Haven’t Seen (Yet)

Assassination Nation A feminist cyberthriller take on the Salem Witch Trials that appears to fall halfway between Unfriended & The Purge – like a meaner, glibber Nerve. This got extremely divisive reviews out of Sundance earlier this year, which has me twice as curious as I’d already be for any Evil Internet thriller, one of my favorite modern genres.

Lizzie – A costume drama/psychological thriller in which Chloë Sevigny plays famed 19th Century axe murderer Lizzie Borden and Kristen Steward costars as her servant/lover. I don’t know how to sell that premise to you if you’re not already on the hook. Only screening at AMC Elmwood.

A Simple Favor Paul Feig graduates from churning out over-the-top, female-led comedies like Bridesmaids & Spy to making an over-the-top, female-led noir in what appears to be a tongue-in-cheek riff on Gone Girl. I’m consistently pleased by his straight-forward comedy work, very curious to see what he can accomplish outside that genre.

The House with the Clock in Its Walls Eli Roth made a name for himself in one of horror’s worst creative slumps: the torture porn nu-metal aughts. He hasn’t been of much interest to me as a result, but recent tongue-in-cheek pranks like the Keanu Reeves head-scratcher Knock Knock have been slowly changing my mind on that, so his directing a PG-rated haunted house comedy for children certainly has an unignorable allure to it. I’m foolishly optimistic.

Movies We’ve Already Enjoyed

Mandy Panos Cosmatos’s follow-up to Beyond the Black Rainbow is being sold as a badass psychedelic freakout starring an unhinged Nic Cage in a heavy metal revenge fantasy. The truth is much stranger than that, as the film is in actuality a slow descent into the Hell of personal grief, much more grotesque & distressing than anything that could be considered feel-good badassery. It’s metal. It’s psychedelic. It deserves to be seen as big & as loud as possible. Just don’t expect it to be a party. Only screening at The Broad Theater.

BlacKkKlansman BlacKkKlansman is a much better-funded, more commercially minded picture than we’ve seen from Spike Lee in years, one that filters satirical jabs at Trumpian racial politics through a classic buddy cop genre structure & a historical look back at the not-so-distant past of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s been a while since a movie had me ping-ponging from such extremes of pure pleasure & stomach-churning nausea, making for one of the year’s most essential cinematic experiences.

SearchingFull disclosure: this one is a controversial pick among the Swampflix crew. It’s basically the Lifetime Movie version of Unfriended, where a trashy genre we love for its cruelty & absurdity is softened by safer, less goofy sentimentality so that it can appeal to the cheesiest of suburban parents. James & I complained about it at length on a recent episode of the podcast, but Britnee was a big fan, as she’s all-in on the Lifetime aesthetic. Either way you fall, it’s worthy of discussion and its success can only mean good things for a gimmicky, technophobic genre we all love.

Young Frankenstein (1974) – Kick off the Halloween season a week early with Mel Brooks’s horror-comedy classic on the big screen. Playing Sunday 9/23 & Wednesday 9/26 as part of Prytania’s Classic Movies series.

-Brandon Ledet

Too Late or Too Soon? The Subtle Art of the Well-Timed Charles Manson Joke

Charles Manson is right up there with Adolf Hitler as a monstrous historical figure whose name is over-cited for easy, #edgy punchlines. The Manson Family murders obviously never came close to matching the body count or continued political atrocities resulting from Hitler & the Nazi Party, but there’s an easy shock value to Charles Manson’s sensationalist, highly-publicized crimes that makes his name just as frequent of a punchline. The joke, no matter how tasteless, has been run into the ground over decades of repetition in South Park episodes, Sam Kinison routines, and Marilyn Manson album titles to the point where it’s too old hat to be effectively offensive. There may have been some minor uproar after Quentin Tarantino’s recent announcement that he’ll be dramatizing the Manson Family murders in his signature tongue-in-cheek way with the upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but most of the outrage surrounding the production has focused on the casting of known-abuser Emile Hirsch & Tarantino’s public statements making light of Roman Polanski’s rape charges. Outrage over his potentially glib treatment of the Sharon Tate murders has been put on the backburner as people address fresher wounds. Our Movie of the Month, the 2006 stop-motion musical Live Freaky! Die Freaky!, was similarly too late to the table to shatter any monocles with its own Charles Manson humor. There’s a performative transgression to Live Freaky! Die Freaky! that acts as if making light of Charles Manson & Sharon Tate was crossing a sealed taboo barrier never before addressed in comedy, despite decades of preceding shock-value art to the contrary. Like Tarantino’s still-in-production Manson movie, Live Freaky! Die Freaky! had to find other, less seemly ways to offend than relying simply on citing Charles Manson’s crimes in a humorous tone (namely through “ironic” misogyny & homophobia).

If timeliness is the key to a truly offensive Charles Manson joke, it’s doubtful that anyone could claim the honor more convincingly than John Waters. On the commentary track for the Criterion Collection release of his 1970 feature Multiple Maniacs, Waters explains the ways the developing account of the Sharon Tate murders changed the shape of the film during production, as the story was still playing out in the headlines. Early in the film, Divine teases her lover (played by David Lochary) by threatening to turn him into the police for killing Tate, even mocking the “P-I-G” carving in her stomach, a real-life detail. Waters explains, “When we shot this, they had not caught Charles Manson. No one knew who he was or anything about him.” Later in the film, Lochary says as much when he holds up an actual newspaper revealing Manson’s involvement in the Tate murder, absolving himself of the crimes Divine attempted to in pin on him, exclaiming, “I’ve never heard of these people!” That scene was quickly re-written the day the paper was printed, making for what has to be the earliest Charles Manson joke on celluloid. When John Waters & The Dreamlanders were joking about Charles Manson, the humor actually was transgressive, an effect that had only dulled & diluted by the time Live Freaky! Die Freaky! arrived over three decades later. When you read positive responses to Live Freaky! Die Freaky! online, they typically liken director John Roecker to Waters, saying his work is “in the comedy style of films like Pink Flamingos.” I’m not buying the comparison. The two directors may have overlapped in thematic territory & subject, but the timing of their arrival completely alters the effect & context of the material. When John Waters joked about The Manson Family murders it was a dangerous, culturally taboo act of true political transgression. By the time John Roecker did the same it was a hack bit that had lost all that impact through decades of dilution, like a kid playing dress-up as a Dangerous Artist.

It’s important to remember the cultural context in which John Waters was making his Charles Manson jokes. As he explains in it on the Multiple Maniacs commentary, the political upheaval of the late 60s countercultural made it feel as if the world were ending. Before turning to filmmaking, Waters poured his political angst into protesting, rioting, and writing for leftist mags. He describes his crew as being pissed-off, dysfunctional hippies who would later become punks & bikers – counterculture types who had not yet established their own niche. His filmmaking was an extension of that political unrest, using humor to both process the absurdity of a culture in chaos and “using humor as terrorism to embarrass your enemy.” When Waters jokes about The Weather Underground & killing cops in Multiple Maniacs, it’s coming from a real place of anger against the cops who arrested his crew while filming Mondo Trasho and added a homophobic slur to David Lochary’s name in their reports. When he jokes about Sharon Tate’s death, films anal lesbian acts involving rosary beads in a Catholic church, or *gasp* shows “two queers kissing like lovers on the lips!” in the film, he was bucking against very real constrictions of censorship, genuinely pushing the envelope of what was allowed by law. Censor boards in America attempted to shut the film down in outrage only for judges to shrug off the complaints because the acts were tasteless, but technically legal. When he sent prints to a Canadian distributor, border police confiscated & destroyed them, not waiting for a judge to weigh in on their legality. Roecker & Tarantino are only able to make their own tasteless Charles Manson jokes now because those censorship battles have already been won; as Waters explains it, “You can put anything in a movie now,” so that for-its-own-sake shock value no longer holds any political power. When hardcore pornography was legalized, Waters gave up trying to shock the censors and moved on to more narrative-focused works like Female Trouble & Polyester. Roecker & Tarantino are only playing with his broken, discarded toys that have been collecting dust in the attic for decades.

That’s not to say that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood can’t or won’t find useful thematic material in the Manson Family murders. There’s no telling how that will pan out until we see the finished product. The dichotomy between the pointed political subversion of Multiple Maniacs and the pointless juvenile posturing of Live Freak! Die Freaky! does suggest that it will be a difficult task, however. John Waters snuck in his Manson Family humor when the wounds were still fresh and the topic was still taboo. John Roecker warns of what could happen when you pretend that same topic still has edge, despite it long having been made acceptable through repetition & familiarity.

For more on September’s Movie of the Month, the stop-motion animated Charles Manson musical Live Freaky! Die Freaky!, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film and last week’s look at the director’s follow-up, the Green Day documentary Heart Like a Hand Grenade.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #65 of The Swampflix Podcast: Art House Herstory with CeCe V DeMenthe & Cosi (1996)

Welcome to Episode #65 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our sixty-fifth episode, Brandon & Britnee are joined by local drag performer CeCe V DeMenthe to discuss the ways the New Orleans art house & repertory cinema scene has changed since the 1970s. Britnee also makes Brandon watch the Australian opera dramedy Cosi (1996) for the first time. Enjoy!

You can stay up to date with our podcast through SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or by following the links on this page.

– Britnee Lombas & Brandon Ledet

The Nun (2018)

The modern mainstream horror is a lot like a haunted house attraction at an amusement park. The carnival barker outside promises more thrills than could ever possibly be delivered. The story told inside is never nearly as important as the craftsmanship of individual images and the establishment of a spooky atmosphere. The most you can really ask for is to be startled a few times by a well-executed act of misdirection; the communal experience of getting spooked in public before returning to your normal life, unaffected but amused, is entirely the point. By those metrics, The Nun is a perfectly average modern horror flick, delivering no more & no less than necessary to skate by as a passable novelty entertainment. Its phenomenal jump-scare trailer beckons passerby to wander to the ticket booth for the soul-shaking freak-out of a lifetime, only for the film to deliver the bare-minimum genre goods instead. Its narrative is a flimsy excuse to string together a series of cheap-thrill spooky images & startling noises. The communal experience of jumping out your seat with a hundred fellow novelty-seeking strangers in the film’s opening weeks is the best it can offer, a cheap thrill that’s quickly forgotten as you wander off to the next attraction.

The Nun’s mediocrity is announced as soon as its exposition, where the film is framed as an out-of-sequence spinoff from The Conjuring franchise with a “Previously on . . . “ flashback befitting a TV series. What follows is a prequel that over-explains the origins of a creepy cameo character from the original Conjuring movies, adopting the same approach as the Annabelle spinoffs. The Annabelle movies mire their origin story mythology in story, however, whereas The Nun does very little to pretend that it is anything but a haunted house attraction. In this case the haunted “house” is a ghostly convent, where The Gates of Hell were once opened to allow a demon to crossover & possess the unsuspecting nuns who live there. We join the action in the 1950s, where a young nun-to-be, a priestly “miracle hunter,” and their French-Canadian scamp of a tour guide investigate the mysterious phenomena of the haunted convent, only to be startled from all directions by the horrors they find inside. Big budget nunsploitation set dressing & familiar Gothic horror atmosphere are only mood-setting novelties meant to flavor the standard demonic jump scares & spooky Catholic iconography The Nun delivers. The characters are practically ushered down an assembly line conveyor belt for their own turn to be startled by the attractions inside, swiftly moving along to the next crop of willing victims can have their fun.

If The Nun were going to be anything more than a perfectly mediocre mainstream horror, its best chance would have been to lean into its value as a cheap novelty. Part of the reason that the film’s trailer is such a delight is that it wastes no time with narrative concerns and instead isolates a single scene of jump-scare misdirection, delivered without context. The film itself unwisely dilutes those types of thrills with an abundance of context that could only be described as a waste of time, especially when deployed to nest the film within The Conjuring’s overarching mythology. The machine-like efficiency of last year’s IT adaptation, where tension was built & released with regular-interval jump scares like a rhythmically reset rotary dial, is an excellent example of how that formula can be executed at a higher, more memorable level. As is, the pacing is a little too languid for the film to fully satisfy as anything more than a loose collection of cheap thrills & spooky nunsploitation-themed images. Any intense praise or condemnation of The Nun can only be hyperbolic, as the film is the exact medium of what big-budget horror looks like the 2010s. The Nun deserves neither ecstatic championing nor intense negativity – only mild, temporary amusement. It’s fine.

-Brandon Ledet

Perfect Blue (1997)

The debut feature of tragically-deceased Japanese animator Satohi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers) is taking a 20th anniversary victory lap in digital restoration, so I had the unexpected opportunity to see it for the first time in a theatrical setting. What a fucked-up delight! Because Paprika is one of the few anime films I’ve watched repeatedly over years of admiration & study, I was somewhat prepared for the sugary pop psychedelia & loopy nightmare logic Satoshi Kon established in this predecessor. What I did not expect going in blind was that the film would fit so comfortably within my beloved Evil Internet horror genre, given that it arrived so early in the development of online culture. The internet is fertile thematic territory for the horrors of the Unknown because its mechanics & functions have continued to feel like a novel, depthless mystery to the average user. I can only imagine that effect was even greater in 1997, when a global network of intercomputer communication felt like a man-made miracle. Perfect Blue not only exploits the eeriness of that brand-new unknown by reflecting it in the similar subliminal space of a bad dream & an unraveling mind, but it’s also prescient of the Internet’s worst functions as a future real-world evil – both as a tool for misogynist bullying & as a corrupter of personal identity. Unlike other early Evil Internet thrillers like The Net or FearDotCom, it’s remained effectively creepy instead of devolving into a quaint joke precisely because it got the internet exactly right. It perfectly captures our ongoing, collective online nightmare, despite arriving in a time when the internet was mostly a tangle of blogs & message boards.

A female pop singer is pressured by her managers to leave her music career behind to pursue acting. This professional shift is coded as her public image growing up, leaving behind the girlish innocence of her pop idol persona to pursue a more adult, sexualized career. She lands a small role on a racy “Japanese psycho thriller” TV series (the kind of sensationalist drama that plays for high ratings on HBO in the 2010s), requiring her to perform increasingly sexualized acts for the camera, including participation a brutal rape scene. Pretending she’s okay with this career shift so she appears agreeable to her talent agency causes a rift inside herself, where her still-innocent inner voice (visualized as her former pop idol persona) screams out in dissent. Meanwhile, an online stalker blogs in first-person as her former self, reinforcing the bifurcation between her two personae. The pressures of her job & the online harassment amount to a fever pitch as she starts losing time and waking to find that the entertainment industry goons who pressured her into sexually compromising positions are being found systematically murdered. Her pop idol self, her TV show character, her dreams, and her false online persona all collectively unravel her sense of identity to the point where she can’t say for sure whether she is the mysterious murderer or even if the murders are actually happening. She can’t even answer basic questions like “Am I dreaming?” or “Am I alive?” with any confidence or certainty. Pressures from her pop music fans to remain an innocent child clash with the television industry’s pressures for her to expose her body & pretend to be a rape victim for commercial entertainment – two opposing, impossible standards only she suffers the consequences of as their target du jour. It’s no surprise that the internet is the primary tool of this misogynist cycle, as it’s only served that function more intensely in real life in the decades since.

Early on in Perfect Blue the protagonist receives a threatening fax from her stalker and the machine’s mechanical scrapes & hums mutate into an industrial pop score that overwhelms the soundtrack, heightening the eerie threat technology poses in her insular world. That’s when I knew I would be all-in for the movie’s technophobic feminist nightmare, which only became more rewarding the further it broke apart from reality to sink into the (literal & figurative) machines of misogyny. Like most well-regarded anime, Perfect Blue is technically impressive as a feat in traditional animation, fully utilizing its medium to achieve logic & imagery unattainable in live action cinema. The particulars of how it uses that medium to reflect the eeriness & artifice of the internet, nightmares, and the entertainment industry are a more rarified wonder, especially since it’s an effect that actually has something substantial to say about the exploitation & commodification of women in the public sphere. Perfect Blue can occasionally be super uncomfortable in its depictions of sexual assault, but at least in a way that’s relevant to those themes. Overall, it’s a strikingly beautiful, effectively creepy work of animated psych-horror, one that approximates the full danger & eeriness of the internet in a way that’s only since been matched by the likes of Suicide Club, Unfriended, Nerve, and #horror. I mean that as the highest of praise, as this is a genre I find consistently fascinating, but rarely this effectively scary. It’s worth noting too that the 20th anniversary digital transfer of the film has not seemed to sharpen, flatten, or distort its original appearance the way some digital “restorations” of animated classics have. Perfect Blue looked to me of the exact grainy, matte quality you’d expect an animated 90s movie to appear like on the big screen. Our relationship with the internet may have intensified drastically in the last 20 years, but Perfect Blue appears to remain untouched as a pristine, enduringly terrifying object – a beautiful technophobic nightmare worthy of continued discussion & preservation.

-Brandon Ledet

Searching (2018)

Something truly amazing is happening in Hollywood right now. There are currently two mainstream movies topping the charts that have something in common: they both star Asian-American actors. One is Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy that I have yet to see but am looking forward to watching. The other is Searching, a fantastic heartwarming thriller that I saw in theaters over the Labor Day weekend. Hollywood films that have predominately Asian-American casts tend to fall in the action genre, so having two non-action films with Asian-American leading actors (Crazy Rich Asians has a majority Asian-American cast) in theaters is historical moment.

John Cho is best known for his comic stoner roles in the Harold & Kumar and American Pie films, but he recently made a bold move by taking on the role of David Kim, a widowed father in Searching. Cho beautifully conveys the characteristics of a loving father, desperately trying to do his best to raise a teenage daughter while dealing with personal grief. I truly hope that Searching will open a new chapter in Cho’s career. One in which he takes on more dramatic roles, as it is something he does very well.

Searching is film that entirely takes place on electronic devices (FaceTime, YouTube videos, live streaming news, computer cameras, etc.), quite similar to gimmicky techno-horror films such as 2015’s Unfriended, but rest assured, Searching is far from being a techno-horror film. In the film’s beginning, the audience gets to know the Kim family through their pictures and videos saved in file folders with labels like “First Day of School,” school schedules on personal desktop calendars, and emails containing medical information, just to name a few. All of it feels so familiar because everyone comes in contact with at least one of these platforms daily, whether it be checking personal email accounts or uploading family photos. Within 10 minutes, it was made clear that the Kim family was very close and experienced something very tragic.

Margot Kim (Michelle La) is a teen being raised by her father, David Kim, after the passing of her mother, Pam Kim (Sara Sohn). They seem to have a healthy father-daughter relationship based on the messages and FaceTime videos between the two, so when David is unable to locate or get in touch with Margot over the course of a day, it’s obvious that something just isn’t right. When David realizes that Margot is missing, he teams up with detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to find his daughter. Loads of twists and turns (enough to make M. Night Shyamalan jealous) ensue during the search for Margot, and David’s sanity is put to the test.

Searching comes off as a Lifetime movie that made it to the big screen. Perhaps it will eventually make it to Lifetime’s programming once it’s out of theaters? It’s definitely not the best thriller to come out this year, but it’s a fun watch for those that enjoy a good plot twist or two. Or three. Or four.

-Britnee Lombas

Fuck, Marry, Kill – Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

The general, perhaps hyperbolic consensus about Mission: Impossible – Fallout is that it’s the best action blockbuster to hit the big screen since Mad Max: Fury Road. The two films don’t seem to have much in common beyond being late-in-the-franchise sequels that shrewdly exploit the basic thrills of their shared genre by stringing together a nonstop onslaught of chase sequences through extravagant set pieces. However, they are two pictures that the Swampflix crew was a little too late to the table to add anything substantial to in our coverage. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a great action pic, matching even its predecessor Rogue Nation as one of the best entries in the franchise. As the film was initially released well over a month ago, however, you’ve likely already heard variations of that praise ad nauseam, so instead of properly reviewing the film we’re attempting to avoid excessive critical redundancy by having some late-summer fun objectifying the film’s Hollywood-handsome cast. The series-arcing plot of Mission: Impossible is effectively resettable & amnesia-inducing from film to film; its stunts are technically impressive, but like all amusement park rides are more fun in experience than in description or critique. The only questions we can answer here, then, are which hunky members of the cast we would fuck, which we would marry, and which we would kill.

Brandon

Fuck Henry Cavill – This choice seems self-explanatory to me. Henry Cavill looks like he crawled directly out of a Tom of Finland illustration in this picture; he’s just oozing sex. This is easily the most fun he’s been to watch on-screen since The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (my non-apologies to DCEU die-hards who found a way to look past his digitally “removed” mustache in Justice League to see his true inner hunk), but I doubt he’s ever looked sexier, even in U.N.C.L.E.’s swanky 60s garb. Mustachioed meathead brute is a great look for him, one that turns even the nastier close-quarters fist fights into a homoerotic pleasure.

Marry Ving Rhames – This also seems obvious to me, as Rhames is already costumed like your middle-age husband, ready to barbeque a backyard meal while you & The Kids enjoy a swim. Beyond his Cuban button-ups & Target-brand brimmed hats, he’s also the most sensitive member of Ethan Hunt’s crew, shedding a giant man-love tear for his boss/bestie in one of the film’s defining dramatic moments. Rhames is an adorable middle-age teddy bear in Fallout, which promises a more long-lasting love than what Cavill’s mustachioed fuck-monster can likely offer.

Kill Tom Cruise – In deciding who to kill, I think you have to look past what these Hollywood Hunks are offering onscreen here to examine what they’re doing beyond the scenes. Not only is Tom Cruise a high-level operator of a dangerous global cult, but he’s also risking his life with each Mission: Impossible entry by performing a large percentage of his own increasingly dangerous stunts. It’s highly likely that the real-life Tom Cruise is going to die trying to distract his audience from his key role in Scientology through these over-the-top, life-risking stunts, so he might as well be sacrificed to the hypothetical consequences of this frivolous game. If you need that choice to be justified by the text of Fallout, consider that the film asks you to choose sides against anti-institutional anarchists in the favor of international government agents with free reign to interpret & execute the law, most significantly represented by Cruise as Ethan Hunt. It’s a political philosophy that’s tolerable enough in-film, but ultimately ACAB, so Cruise must die no matter the context.

CC

Fuck Henry Cavill – I mean, pretty much everything Brandon says. It’s not quite a full-blown fetish, but I definitely give extra (sexual) points to a man with a decent mustache*. In a Fuck/Marry/Kill scenario, who wouldn’t take the chance to shag a real-life Tom of Finland illustration?

*The pencil-thin pervert’s mustache and the thick-boi Henry Cavill-style mustache are the only two acceptable styles, however. Walruses, Fu Manchus, and handlebars need not apply.

Marry Simon Peg – He seems like a guy who is good with gadgets and can do a large portion of household maintenance. Even though he’s useless in a fight and lacks the raw sex appeal of pretty much every other guy in this film (background extras included), he seems like he’d be open to some pretty kinky stuff. At the end of the day, a useful pervert is more my speed than a sex idiot (even if it is King Sex Idiot).

Kill Tom Cruise (after fucking him too) – Oh yeah, I’d definitely kill Tom Cruise, but, like, there’s no sense wasting the opportunity to have sex with an ageless cult leader/god. Who knows, maybe magic is real? Let’s be optimistic during the impending End Times.

Adopt Ving Rhames – Ving Rhames and the character he plays in Mission: Impossible both seem like guys who LOVE their mama. I’ve never experienced that level of truly unconditional love and I feel like the intensity of its pure, wholesome light would burn a hole right through my soul – worth it, both for the release from the inescapable ennui of modern life and for how cozy & warm it sounds.

Start a book (wine) club with Michelle Monaghan & Rebecca Ferguson – In the Mission: Impossible movies, these ladies have to put up with so much shit from the men around them. Patriarchy, am I right? Even though one plays a human rights activist/medical doctor, the other plays a super spy, and both are real-life (probably?) wealthy, semi-famous white actresses, I still feel like we’d all have a lot to gab about, like how Henry Cavill is the raw-steak-eaten-while-still-warm-from-the-animal of men and Tom Cruise is a pretty lie we have chosen to believe for far too long. But to make sure we still pass the Bechdel Test when we’re not discussing the Patriarchy, we’d also have books, wine, and the never-ending depths of our existential despair to consider.

-Brandon Ledet & CC Chapman