Mad God

I had spotted this film in the upcoming features for our local bijou and then the trailer, airing on Shudder during the intermission of “The Last Drive-In” got us all excited, so we trundled off over the hill to catch it when it opened just a few days later.

Mad God is an effort that’s been constructed over 30 years. A product of special-effects impresario Phil Tippet’s studio, boosted by some crowdfunding and Shudder money, presumably, it could perhaps best be described as a stop-motion Inferno. It begins with the Tower of Babel (or something like that) being consumed by smoke and fiery clouds, which led me to believe that this was, literally, about an angry god. But madness of the other sort prevails.

After the tower is (presumably) destroyed along with the world, we have a future where the world is in ruins, hellish and dystopic, and yet actually pretty sane compared to what is to come. An agent is sent into the earth below where we see layers of Hell (or something close enough to it as to make no never mind) where life is tortured and destroyed, and maybe even created—only to be tortured and destroyed. The agent is on a machine. He’s got a suitcase with a bomb in it. He’s gonna blow up Hell or something.

I could describe the whole plot as I perceived it and it wouldn’t really be even slightly spoilery. It also wouldn’t match up at much what I presume the canonical description of the plot (per Wikipedia) is.

It’s not really about the plot, though. I realized that early on and just enjoyed the visuals trying (but not too hard) to make sense of the proceedings. It’s a novel creation, a truly unique filmed experience, sometimes beautiful in its horror. The Boy was so taken by the first half of the film, the second half disappointed him somewhat, as he didn’t feel it tied things together that well. We agreed, leaving the theater, that we could turn around right then and watch it again.

To say that it’s not for everybody is to do violence to the phrase “not for everybody”. This is genuinely weird, more than occasionally uncomfortable, existing outside of normal concepts of “morality”—existing outside normal concepts of “normal”. It’s disturbing. And this is me saying that.

Just as much as it isn’t for everybody, it is really, really for us. Seeing someone’s “completely different mind working on full blast” is one of the reasons we go to the movie, and this delivers in spades.

It’s the sort of movie that rewards you for watching closely, and gives you lots to speculate on. Maybe the imagery is just random and meaningless, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like every set-piece, every 5-second shot for that matter, has a backstory and could be the basis for a whole ‘nother story. If the movie doesn’t quite delivery a satisfying “why”, it makes up for it by giving lots of potential answers.

We saw this right after Crimes of the Future, and any movie that makes a Cronenberg body-horror seem tame in comparison has definitely got something going on in my book!


Crimes of the Future

My kids primarily know David Cronenberg from an early “Rick and Morty”, where Rick carelessly but typically turns the entire population of planet Earth into grotesque monsters that they call “Cronenbergs”. There’s even a Rick and Morty mutation that refer to each other as “Cronenberg Rick” and “Cronenberg Morty”. IMDB lists the Canadian primarily as an actor, stating that he’s best known for being the obstetrician in Dead Ringers and the gynecologist in The Fly. (I’m sensing a theme, here, David.) His first major acting role was as the evil Scarecrow-esque psychiatrist in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, a movie worth watching—but only the director’s cut. (It’s a long, long story.)

Cronenberg David Cronenberg?

So this would be…Cronenberg David?

Despite his roles in that and the fact that he’s maybe done more acting recently than directing, and despite the fact that his most recent movies have been what you might call “respectable”—Map To The Stars, A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises, A History of Violence—I think it’s fair to say that his greatest contribution to cinema, his essential Cronenberg-acity, is from his earlier films, specifically The Brood, Videodrome, The Fly, even Naked Lunch, which define the aesthetic of Cronenberg body-horror.

Scanners, obviously, is one the movies he’s most known for, but the body horror is limited to that one famous scene, and doesn’t have quite the “look”. No, Cronenberg’s aesthetic is so remarkable that you know it the instant you see it.

I mean.

Like this chair that helps Viggo digest his food.

Needless to say, the introduction to Viggo Mortensen’s character in this movie, entombed as he was in one of several inexplicable and bizarre, not-really-science-fiction-type chairs and beds, put a rather big smile on my face. (The Boy, not having any association with the style thought it was interesting but could sense his own ignorance. Interestingly enough, we’ve never had a Cronenberg-fest locally in his lifetime that I am aware of.) It was also nice to see that Cronenberg, who turns 80 next year, could still direct an old-school dystopic body horror flick like he did 40 years ago—and even get some walkouts at Cannes.

I would hope it goes without saying that if you don’t like that kind of movie, you aren’t going to like this. But if you do, I felt this was a solid example, even if IMDB rates it at the bottom of his output. To me, it made aesthetic sense and just enough “logical” sense that I could follow the plot, understand the motives, and get what the overarching point was.

The story: In a grimy dystopic future, people no longer get pain or infection—this provides an amusing potential why for the griminess: people don’t clean or take care of things because there are no consequences to NOT doing it—but they are growing novel organs rather mysteriously. Saul (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Lea Seydoux) are performance artists: He grows these organs and she publicly excises them through a baroque surgery device, the technology of which seems to have been lost or forgotten. The two have a reasonably lucrative gig doing this—although money never seems to change hands, so the payment may be in fame or attention or something else. They definitely (especially Saul) have a kind of rock star status.


Caprice’s beauty stands in stark contrast to Saul’s deformity.

The Government is taking an interest in these new organs, however, starting a Novel (or National, though which nation?) Organ Registry which Saul must visit—this is a little murky, actually. He’s got to register the organs, so it’s a public function, but it’s also a secretive thing that no one is supposed to know about, at least not yet. This kind of Kafka-esque situation includes a bureaucrat, Timlin (Kristin Stewart), who develops a thing for Saul.

It’s a good time to remind yourself that Kristin Stewart can act when they let her. In this she has a nervous sexual energy that threatens Caprice but is mildly amusing and flattering to Saul.

Anyway, there’s a secret police (I mean, any movie involving the government that doesn’t have a secret police is bigger fantasy than this, amirite?) agent named Cope who takes the position that there is a transformation going on in the world, and this transformation is from human to something inhuman, with all the implied menace. The core of the story centers around a murdered child whose internal organs may reveal something about the nature of this transformation, and Cope wants to shape the outcome of the investigations of the boy and round up all the pro-noveux human types.

So we got ourselves a paranoid, futuristic body-horror conspiracy fetish movie.

Sort of interesting to me: I couldn’t remember a Cronenberg horror movie with a major black character in it—I mean, he made the early ones in Canada in the ’70s initially—and I thought it was interesting that Cope was played by a black man (a Guinea actor named Welket Bungué) and his concern was with, essentially, racial purity. It was a nice touch, even if purely coincidental.

Despite his name.

Cope does not cope well.

But the main issue is where Saul stands on all this. Because even he’s not sure. In fact, we get the impression that he, too, is rather repulsed by what his body is doing (body horror, after all) and views his surgical performances as a way to fight that. But he’s also increasingly sick, and some of the crazy conspiracy theories are starting to make sense to him.

I liked it quite a bit. It was different (in the overall marketplace sense; it fits in well with Cronenber’s oeuvre) and weird and distinctive.

Sexual fetishism plays a role here. Cronenberg has never shied away from highly charged eroticism which is both rather explicit and absolutely necessary to the plot. (A History of Violence‘s extended mutual oral sex scene between Mortensen and Bello, e.g.) Here we discover that Saul is good at…well, whatever passes for sex in this weird future, but not at the old-fashioned kind. And there is an extended scene of Caprice naked which serves to remind one (in case one had forgotten since The French Dispatch) that Ms. Seydoux looks awfully good naked. Anyone else, you might think it’s cheap bait, but it’s so critical and perfect to have the contrast between the oddly mutated Saul—an uncomfortable future—and the practically perfect Caprice.

The only weakness, to my mind, was the unwillingness to crank it up a little bit. The ending seemed so obvious and inevitable to me—which is in itself a kind of achievement when you’re dealing with something this surreal—that I thought Saul could have used a bit more drama to goose his arc. But even this, I know, is deliberate, and I wonder if it’s just to keep everything as grounded as possible under the circumstances.

Anyway, I’d recommend it up there with Existenz, e.g. I think it makes its point and is interesting and disturbing. The Boy also liked it though he didn’t have a strong a positive reaction as I did.

Stewart is aggressively weird sometimes.

Paints a picture, don’t it?

The Roundup

Ma Dong-seok! Ma Dong-seok!

Thus goeth the chant on the way to Koreatown to see The Roundup, the latest Ma Dong-seok cop action flick. We like Mr. Ma. He’s got charisma. So the fact that this is a sequel to 2017’s The Outlaws (“based on a true story!”) didn’t bother us even though none of us have seen that older film. You can tell it’s a sequel, though, in the sense that there are many characters you’re sort of supposed to know to go along with the new characters who are central to the current story.

But it’s kind of nice in this regard: The people from the previous film feel like fleshed out characters even if you haven’t seen the first flick. They have their traits and interests and goals, and it’s a good reminder that you don’t need a lot of screen time to build a character.

The story is about Korean tourists in Vietnam being kidnapped and held for ransom and/or murdered. Ma plays Ma Seok-do (which I think would be like Jean-Claude van Damme playing a character called Claude Jack Van Damme, but what do I know?) a loose cannon cop who doesn’t respect international borders when it comes to justice.

I’m not really exaggerating here. Ma has a bad habit of making his own people look bad in the papers (at least according to his boss) and to get rid of him for a while, sends him to do an extradition in a foreign country. Classic. It reminds me of a blend of American films from the ’50s to the ’80s, with a sincere patriotism, good-natured enthusiasm and a genuine good-vs-evil narrative. I do find the comical treatment of police brutality grating, as I have in American films. On the other hand, I liked the whole “Hey, we’re supposed to bring justice, why does it matter what country we’re in?” ethos.

The supporting cast is strong, from the genuinely evil villain to the wacky comic-relief—a low-level grifter whose schemes are constantly being thwarted by Ma, but who ends up saving the day, even if unintentionally. There is that whole kind-of, “Sure, there are petty thieves and con-men, but when you’re up against real evil, even they’ll be on your side” trope which is nice.

Good action. Nice twist at the end which is explained after the fact. I’d sorta figured it out but the explanation was helpful. Otherwise you could walk away thinking Ma was just magic and had successfully guessed where the bad guy would be.

The Flower came with us for this one. Ma Dong-seok may be the only contemporary movie star* she’s ever gone to see a movie because he was in it. She even toyed with going to see The Eternals, as someone who hasn’t seen a marvel movie since 2015, but we both figured there wasn’t going to be enough Ma to make it worth our whiles.

*Ma Dong-seok and Clint Eastwood. Even though he’s barely contemporary, she’s been a fan of his since and because of Gran Torino, so he counts.


Ma looms large.


Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (say that name three times fast, or once slowly for that matter) has been showered with awards over his 20-odd year career, and Memoria is no exception, garnering six awards and nineteen nominations from places like Cannes, Ghent and Chicago, where it won a Gold Hugo! (I was unable to ascertain why the Chicago International Film Festival awards Gold and Silver Hugos but Mr. W has three previous nominations with this film being his first win.

This is a spare, moody, slow-pa—ok, it sucked.

I kid. Sorta. The Boy and I didn’t hate it per se it but it spurred some discussion about why the tactics used here have worked so well in other films and didn’t land for us here.

Yes, there is a climactic nap.

So, for the big finale, we’re gonna sit here and talk for, about 30-40 minutes. Well, not, talk actually. We’ll nap.

The story is that Jessica (Tilda Swinton) is—well, here let me give you the capsule from the movie’s website:

Ever since being startled by a loud ‘bang’ at daybreak, Jessica (Tilda Swinton) is unable to sleep. In Bogotá to visit her sister, she befriends Agnes (Jeanne Balibar), an archaeologist studying human remains discovered within a tunnel under construction.

Jessica travels to see Agnes at the excavation site. In a small town nearby, she encounters a fish scaler, Hernan (Elkin Diaz). They share memories by the river. As the day comes to a close, Jessica is awakened to a sense of clarity.

Huh. Well, we didn’t guess that she was in Bogotá to visit her sister. I didn’t get that she was traveling to see Agnes—it actually seemed to me like she was going out to try to solve the mystery of the big badaboom. I didn’t really get that she wasn’t able to sleep until she explicitly says so well into the picture. (The handling of time is murky, deliberately, I’m sure.) So in the movie’s 135 minute runtime, I got about 40% of these six sentences. And not a whole lot else.

The Boy and I have been captivated by a number of slow-moving films in our day, setting aside Kubrick and Lean whose movies tend to have big payoffs, there’s Stalker, which is much longer than this film and has shots as long or longer, though generally with some motion to the camera or the characters, or some revelatory or purposeful intent. In this movie, you watch the fish scaler take a nap. I mean, there’s a purpose to it, but…oy. The camera sits there for I don’t know how long. Another scene takes place where Jessica listens to music through headphones—you hear none of it.

And that’s the whole movie, really: A camera sitting in one place, with one very static image.

Slow, is what I'm saying.

Images like this say so much after you’ve stared at them for 12 minutes. Things like, “I have to go to the bathroom” and “I wonder if I can get a refill on my popcorn.”

There’s a scene where Jessica stops by a classroom (?) where a jazz combo is playing and the camera holds on her, in the midst of this small audience, as she listens to the combo playing. And listens and listens and listens. Now, the longer you hold a shot on a character observing something, the greater the expectation you create for the reverse shot. The audience wants to see what’s so damn fascinating! An Airplane!-style riff at this point would’ve been to reverse the camera to reveal everyone was just looking at a radio, e.g. This two-minute Saturday Night Live/Steve Martin sketch plays on the concept by never switching to the reverse.

In fact, I can think of way more comedic uses of the technique than dramatic. And horror uses, where it usually results in disappointment (because the reverse shot is of the monster, and…monsters are hard and usually disappointing). In drama, it’s typically used to show a character’s emotional change, a curve up or down as the character has various realizations about things and becomes more despondent (usually) or happier. It’s also not typically done as a medium-shot in a crowd scene, because it can be hard to read changes from that distance.

Maybe that was the point: Maybe we were being shown Jessica’s increasing alienation from reality. But if that’s what was going down, it was too subtle for either me or The Boy to pick up. And that’s only one type of static shot. There’s another where she’s looking at an art installation (I think that’s what it was) for a good several minutes, and again the camera is at a medium-to-long range so…I mean, alienation is a thing you’re communicating with that, but do you really want to alienate your audience?

Subverting expectations!

The movie changes from “staring at someone staring at something” to “staring at someone listening to something”.

I would describe the story thusly: Jessica hears a loud noise that wakes her up one night. She lives her life not knowing whether the noise is real or not. Further, people she interacts with seem to disappear not just physically but from the memories of everyone around her. Is she crazy or is something else going on?

Here’s another technique that works against the film: The mysterious noise is often followed by car alarms going off in a pattern. One starts, then another, and this builds till all the alarms are going off. Then they die off one-by-one until they’ve all stopped.

Now, for myself, when a film director shows me something and there is no character around to observe it, I take it as literal. There can’t be an unreliable narrator if there’s no narrator. The car alarm symphony is shown from a completely neutral location the first time, signaling to me that it’s actually happening.

The second time we hear the noise, Jessica is walking along the street and the entire city appears to be reacting to the noise. I took that as proof that the noise was real. There was a little sleight-of-hand there, potentially, though, and maybe everyone was reacting to something else unrelated to the noise. But there’s an entire character that just vanishes from the story, too, and who never existed according to the other characters (including complete strangers who would have to have known) so in retrospect I would have to say that Jessica is hallucinating the whole time.

I don’t think you could even argue very strongly that her sister is real, or the archaeologist, or any other part of the story for that matter. Why am I sitting here?

In the long run, this struck me very much like Under The Skin in that it’s basically a B-movie plot that’s done in such an abstract way that critics finally allow themselves to enjoy it. For myself, I kept waiting for there to be something—anything—on these long shots to justify them. Even as studies in acting, the camera is too far, or Swinton is too subtle (for me) to enjoy.

But I suppose that’s the kind of thinking that keeps me from winning a Gold Hugo.

I got nothing.

“Help, I’m trapped inside a pie crust!”


For me, taking the Boy to go see a Finnish horror movie has a real “we’re back!” feeling to it. (For purposes of this review, we’ll set aside the question of whether Finland actually exists.) It helps that Pahanhautoja is odd and interesting and tragic, very contemporary and has a somewhat ballsy take on “is this literally happening? or is this a metaphor?” (See also Northman, The.)


Already the most horrifying image you’ll see this year.

A beautiful 12-year-old girl, Tinja, lives with Mother and Father (that’s all they’re called) and her brother Tero in a lovely little home in a tract in the woods, with their lives being a perfect Instagram drama staged by Mother. Played by Sophia Heikkilä who channels the ancient primal spirit of Karen, Mother must have everything perfect all the time: Matching clothes, expensive and fragile furnishings, overt demonstrations of strong sexual attraction to Father, champion gymnast daughter, and so on. So, in the opening scene, when a crow flies in (another Northman parallel) and smashes up the joint, we’re not surprised when Mother kills it.

Tinja is awoken later that night by the cries of the crow who, it turns out, is not dead but limping along in pain with a broken neck. The upshot of this odd, supernatural sequence is that Tinja ends up with a suspiciously large egg she nurtures in secret. The suspiciously large egg grows suspiciously larger, and Tinja becomes increasingly clever about hiding it while we (and she) learn more about the true dysfunction in her family.

At the end of the first act, the egg hatches.

There's an update for ya.

The Suspiciously Large Egg and I

This is important, cinematically, for a lot of reasons. You could do an entire movie, e.g., where Tinja hides the egg that grows bigger and bigger until…well, in that kind of story, the hatching could be the climax and would tend toward an entirely metaphorical reading like, say, Rhinoceros. In this movie, the egg hatches—with a nice mix of what appears to be puppetry and CGI—and the problem gets worse. So while we’re given prompts to see it as a metaphor for the onset of menses and eating disorders, among other common modern problems, it’s the movie’s misguided characters who make those interpretations, only to be taken by surprise by a literal monster.

This monster has a tendency to try to eliminate anything or anyone that slightly annoys Tinja. I mentioned earlier that Tinja is beautiful, and this is important. Early on she gets a new neighbor her own age, who is as beautiful if not more so than she. And who is better at gymnastics. And who has a yippy dog who barks when Tinja’s trying to sleep.

You get the picture.

Pretty tho'.

Tinja’s competition Reetta is played by Ida Määttänen, who has too many umlauts.

Mother, of course, is the real monster in this movie. Besides demanding the feigned perfection, she utterly disregards her son, and her apparent love for her daughter—well, let’s digress here for a moment. One of the first blog posts I ever wrote (back in 2007) was on the line between parenting and friendship. Many arguments can be had on where the line might be drawn, but we can probably all agree that enlisting your daughter in your adulterous schemes is well over where any non-narcissist would draw them.

Interestingly, Mom’s lover (who quickly moves from secret to right out in the open) is the only male in the movie worth a damn. A widower with an infant child, he is the polar opposite of the nebbishy Father—a strong, sensitive handyman who is the only adult in the movie who deals with Tinja with any level of compassion or understanding. He lives in an old, rustic farmhouse that Mother cheerfully describes as a “fixer-upper” and at which she brings Tinja to spend the weekend. Mother, it would seem, is preparing to replace her old family with a new one, with Tinja being the only thing she plans to bring with her. And even Tinja’s role is clearly disposable with an adorable new infant for Mother to hyperfocus on.

The eyes have it.

This image conveys something subtler than you might realize at first.

Even with Tinja resenting her mother’s impending dissolution of the family and her subsequent replacement, she’s not a monster, and this is ultimately what powers the film. We empathize with her. She’s trying hard to please her mother, whose constant demands on her make it impossible for her to forge any friendships elsewhere. Nonetheless, she’ll sacrifice the approval she craves to do the right thing. She’s just a kid with a situation that’s gotten out of hand.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, which is a step up from “oh my god, I hated the ending”. It did not have a “twist”, for which I was grateful, but I felt like maybe there should have been some kind of coda. “What happens next?” is necessarily not a bad place to leave the audience, though, and almost any extra material after the obvious climax of a horror movie

Overall, a worthy watch and, as noted, one that really made things feel “normal” for your moviegoing correspondent. Sadly, the ten-day period that gave us seven interesting movies would be followed by three weeks of nothing and the local AMC being shut down. At least today we would have a chance to see the latest Ma Dong-seok movie.

Six Different Minds Working On Full Blast

Years ago, when we saw Violence Voyager, The Boy introduced me to a concept he had picked up on the Internet called “someone’s different mind working on full blast”. And, truly, the Internet is both a source and a destination for such things. In the span of about a week, we had the opportunity to see six such films. These are movies that do not feel like “product”: They are someone’s vision, someone’s fever dream, someone’s wild hallucinations put to celluloid.

For the most part, they’re way more entertaining than 90% of the movies that will make it to the top 20. I’ll have independent reviews of each of these in the upcoming days but since I couldn’t pick one to single out, here are capsules of each.

(Note: This post originally appeared at Ace of Spades HQ Saturday Night Movie Thread for 25 June 2022.)

Crimes of the Future

Not the most unpleasant thing Stewart has had to stick in her eye for a movie. (I don’t even know what I’m implying here.)

This is pure classic Cronenberg which, I have to say, it’s kind of heartening that he can still make this kind of movie. He has a unique vision—he basically defined his own genre of body horror that, for the most part, other people don’t even try to imitate. And that’s for the best. Sometimes he hits with me and sometimes he doesn’t—I like there to be a kind of logic that I can follow, and this movie definitely has that. The premise is that humans, inexplicably, are growing new organs. Viggo Mortensen has a career as a performance artist who grows these organs so that Léa Seydoux can extract them on stage.

The government has set up a registry to keep track of all these new organs, with at least one strain of thought being that the presence of these organs transmogrifies former humans into…something else. The paranoid subplot doesn’t quite have the oomph you’d hope for—it’s all very low-key given the topic which in itself is very Cronenberg—but I enjoyed it. The Boy was less sure what to do with this one, not having any experience with the genre. It’s not a starter film, for sure, like The Fly.


“OK, Tilda, look up…you’re looking up…good…look up…hold…hold…keep looking…hold…for about 20 minutes…”

This one has awards up the yin-yang from Cannes and, by our lights, was the only read dog in the bunch. It’s super static. Now, the Boy and I love static movies, generally. Kubrick and Lean, for example, but even more to the point, Stalker. (Or, in my case, Schulze Gets The Blues.) What I’m getting at is, we’re not impatient. This one, to me, reminded of Under The Skin: It’s basically a B-movie plot about Tilda Swinton wandering around Colombia having either a psychotic break or being haunted or something, and the lack of action makes it “arty”.

Actually, if you take it that she’s having a psychotic break, the movie both makes more sense and is more pointless than the overt answer to the riddle of “Where’s That Loud Banging Coming From?” The Boy had sort of assumed that early on, whereas I felt the movie gave too many cues that things were happening in the real world. Unfortunately, the answer is hugely unsatisfying. But, like, I said: Lots of awards.

Mad God

Eye…have no idea what’s going on.

This is many someone’s different minds working at full blast, and over 30 years, as Special FX impresario Phil Tippet has allowed a variety of animators to gain experience by working on bits and pieces of this fever dream. What’s it about? I’m not sure, exactly. I think it’s about a guy in Hell who ventures into Worse Hell in order to blow it up, but doesn’t make it, and then…something happens. Well, look, lots of things happen. Lots of weird, inexplicable, nightmarish things.

I could tell early on that the narrative wasn’t really going to make a lot of sense, so I kind of let it all wash over me, whereas the Boy loved the first half so much, he was somewhat disappointed by the second half not quite feeling tied together. Both of us felt we could go see it again right after seeing it the first time. Kickstarter and the Shudder horror streaming channel had something to do with this, and it is available to watch on Shudder. It’s a hell of a funhouse ride. Very dark and disturbing.

Ninja Badass

There is some male genitalia in this film I suspect to be the director’s but I didn’t ask.

We ventured out to see this one a few days after Mad God, and it was, apparently, “closing night” with a Q&A featuring the director. Sadly, it was just the Boy and I, as well as the director, his mother and a friend of the family who had turned out, which is a shame. This is a colorful, chaotic mess of a comedy that’s also oddly rather polished. Written, directed, starring and edited by Ryan Harrison, this is the story of a weird loser whose (unwilling future) girlfriend is captured by ninjas—”ninjers”, because it’s Indiana, I guess—and who must rescue her if he’s ever going to graduate from the blow-up doll and move out of his mother’s house (Miss Hot Body 1989, played by his real mother).

On his journey, he’s accompanied by his friend and a girl ninja, but they all have competing ideas about how things should go down, and at one point the friend disappears—I suspect some of this due to the extended length of time the movie took to film—and comes back in a surprise twist that didn’t quite make sense.

It’s funny, in parts, and resists the urge to completely beclown every character—the denouement makes everyone seem almost normal. The editing kept it super lively. It was too loud in the theater, and the sound mix was too chaotic (perhaps covering up for unevenness in ambient recording?), but while I liked it more than The Boy, it kind of stuck with both of us. Too many films go for that “cult classic midnight showing” thing—this one feels like it’s eminently re-watchable. It’s jam-packed.

Wild Men

We won’t talk about his bow technique. Or crossbows. Never talk about crossbows.

Of the six movies, this was the most “normal” of films. A Danish film written and directed by Thomas Daneskov, this is a story of a guy who decides he wants to chuck modern life and goes out into the Norwegian wilderness to live like a Viking—a life for which he is completely unprepared. His path crosses with a drug courier, and the two go on a journey that takes them through a Viking-re-enactment village, being pursued by cops and a bereft wife, and gives the filmmakers a chance to ask, repeatedly, what it means to be a man.

Because, let’s face it, Scandinavian dudes are seriously cucked. To my way of thinking, the doof who wanders off into the wilderness was the guy who had the right idea (even if a poor execution). But the characters are (all too) real and the journey interesting. Also, as always, Norway is gorgeous to look at. I wish they’d shot this on film.

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Bar-mitzvahs have changed since I was nearly 13.

Produced, directed, written by and starring Cooper Raiff (Raiff Cooper?), Cha Cha tells the story of a fresh-out-of-college, directionless romantic named Andrew, who is working at the Meat Sticks and trying to raise enough money to go out to Barcelona (where his girlfriend went and is already cheating on him, though he’s not exactly Mr. Faithful, either) because he doesn’t really know what else to do. The thing that makes the movie work is that Andrew is really nice, like, a genuinely good person, and in a successful effort to salvage a bar mitzvah that’s dying as a party, he ends up being a professional party starter.

At one of these party he meets young mom Domino (Dakota Johnson) and manages to get her autistic daughter on the dance floor. The three of them begin a relationship, complicated by Domino’s fiancée, and the ten-year age difference—a problem she recognizes but he does not. The thing that makes this movie really stand out is all the characters feel real, feel like they have genuine motivations, and just because they piss off Andrew doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy human beings.

The dangers in the story were immense—Andrew could have come off like a supreme douchebag—yet we ended up comparing it favorably to other character-driven classics (like from the ’30s and ’40s). Top notch acting all around. Leslie Mann is amazing. Johnson is more appealing than I’ve ever seen her. Brad Garrett is a kind of a bump-on-a-log that we come to respect. Etc. A shockingly pleasant film, if you can imagine such a thing.

Bonus: Top Gun: Maverick

Totally not in this category but is also good. Better than the original by a long-shot.