I ended up seeing two films in theaters during a single weekend for the first time in a while. Do I consider either of them a step up from last week’s decidedly subpar showing? Even if they haven’t, I’ve also been watching classic films at home, so you can safely bet at least one of the following films is worth seeing.
Hereditary by Ari Aster (2018)
Annie Graham is an artist who specializes in miniatures. She lives with her husband, teenage son, and preteen daughter: Steve, Peter, and Charlie. Her mother, Ellen, has recently passed away. At the funeral, Annie tells those present of her secretive nature, expressing astonishment that this many people would show up. A few days have passed since the interment. Annie reveals at a loss support group that her family has a history of mental illnesses. Her father suffered from depression and starved himself, her schizophrenic brother accused their mother of putting people inside of him before committing suicide, and Ellen herself suffered from dissociative identity disorder. These hereditary traits seem to show up in Charlie as she begins exhibiting strange behavior far removed from that of a normal kid.
As someone who frequently visits the theaters, I have seen more than a few films backed by the independent studio A24. This is because many projects associated with that company have proven to be critical darlings in the five years since its founding, and if a film gets enough acclaim, you can count on me to see it so I may pitch my two cents. My personal experience with the company’s output got off to a rocky start with Ex Machina, which I feel is an inferior version of Her. From there, however, I ended up seeing Moonlight, 20th Century Women, Good Time, Lady Bird, and The Disaster Artist – all of which stood out as highlights of their respective years. Admittedly, I tend not to keep track of film studios to the same extent as I do game developers, but with the string of solid efforts, one could say A24 won me over.
Before I get into my full opinion, it should be noted that as of this writing, while the critics have almost nothing but praise for Ari Aster’s directorial debut, moviegoers are more divided. After seeing it for myself, I can see why it captured the critics’ attention; it’s is one of the creepiest, haunting films I’ve seen in quite some time. Furthermore, the performances this new director managed to get out of his actors, most notably Toni Collette, have to be seen to be believed. It also pitches a lot of interesting ideas. |Though I haven’t exactly seen that many horror films, I know the archetypal creepy child has a habit of surviving until the end of the film. I was taken aback when Charlie ends up dying slightly before the halfway point. I also like that it takes its time introducing the supernatural elements, as it lend the film a dynamic quality.|
Unfortunately, A24’s winning streak ends here because even in light of everything good I can say about Hereditary, I’m going to have to side with the fans on this one. A common reason I don’t see eye-to-eye with critics is usually when a critically praised work fails to stick the landing – indeed, in my book, such an offense results in an automatic disqualification. |I acknowledge that there are plenty of excellent works that have dark endings, but successful examples tend to be the exception rather than the rule. In the case of Hereditary, its twist ending is that a medium used the Graham family to resurrect the spirit of a demon named Paimon, who is ostensibly possessing Peter. It turns everything on its head, but the film ends before anything significant can result in the narrative. This is one of the most common traps directors fall into when going for a dark ending; it feels as though it ends on a sequel hook to a film the creators don’t intend to make.| I remarked in my last feature that the 2010s has proven to be a better decade for horror than sci-fi, and in some ways, Hereditary seems to make my case for me in that as underwhelming as it is, it’s at least better than Ex Machina. I can accept that this film just isn’t for me, but by that same token, I would have a difficult time recommending it. If you’re looking for a good 2018 horror film, stick with A Quiet Place.
Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer (1998)
Lola is in a bit of a pickle. Her boyfriend Manni is a small-time criminal who has collected 100,000 marks in cash as a result of his most recent job. Lola had agreed to meet Manni to drive him so they could deliver the money to his boss, Ronnie. However, Lola’s moped was stolen and she failed to arrive on time. This caused Manni to take a subway train without a ticket. He panicked when he saw inspectors approaching him and left the bag of cash behind. The last thing he saw before the train departed was a homeless man examining the money in the bag. From here, the premise is simple: Lola now has twenty minutes to make those 100,000 marks happen or Ronnie will doubtlessly kill Manni. She hangs up the phone and begins running as fast as she can.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of watching Fritz Lang’s classic 1931 film, M. It quickly became a personal favorite, and it inspired me to see more of what Germany had to offer. Run Lola Run was among the films I learned of when I typed “Best German films” into Google. In truth, I have known of the film’s existence for quite some time. Its distinctive soundtrack was referenced in one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, “Trilogy of Error”. It was after being reminded of this films existence I finally decided to check it out.
What I particularly like about Run Lola Run is how it does what it can to trick you into thinking it’s a straightforward thriller only to throw a curveball about thirty minutes in |when Lola is shot down by the police after Manni attempts to rob a store. It seems a story should logically end with the death of its protagonist, and this film is no exception. So what does it do? It simply starts over from the beginning. After Lola’s death, we’re taken back to the exact moment when she hang up the phone. This is where the true nature of the film reveals itself as Lola sets out on her journey again, but this time, things turn out differently for her and the people she briefly interacts with in a demonstration of the Butterfly Effect. This one ends with the death of Manni instead. Only in the timeline where neither of them rob anyone do they both survive.|
All in all, I enjoyed this film; it has a very unique style to it – almost resembling that of a live-action comic book. Whether you’re into crime thrillers or not, this one is worth looking into.
American Animals by Bart Layton (2018)
Two childhood friends, Spencer and Warren are students from Lexington, Kentucky. Both are enrolled at Transylvania University, though they are dissatisfied with their suburban upbringing. During a tour of the university’s library, they discover that it possesses a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and four double-size folios of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, among other notable items. Deciding that they could use a little excitement in their lives, they band together with two other college students, conspiring to steal the rare books and fence them for a high profit.
What spurred me into seeing American Animals is rather simple. As I was decidedly unimpressed with the last two films I had seen in theaters, I sought out a one that, while having received less critical praise, was enjoyed by theatergoers. Just like Deadpool 2, I feel American Animals is a case in which I am actively questioning why critics weren’t particularly enthusiastic about this film while promoting ones that, though interesting, had glaringly obvious flaws.
American Animals is unique among heist films in that it its cast doesn’t consist of hardened criminals, but rather college students. It seems to make the case that no matter how big of a game they talk, they’re still ultimately suburban kids who have no business attempting to go through with such a plan. |What particularly stood out to me was when the loudmouthed Warren vomits after having tied up the librarian. He talks a big game, but when push comes to shove, he has no idea what he’s doing. It gets hilarious in a particularly tragic way when their escape plan backfires and they drop one of the large books attempting to escape. For their hard work, they get caught in a matter of days and spend seven-and-a-half years in prison.|
This is based on a true story, and the film is shot in a half-film, half-documentary style that is highly reminiscent of I, Tonya, which I also enjoyed. It even features a few isolated scenes in which characters break the fourth wall. All I can say is that if you use Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic as a film guide, don’t let the rating systems lead you astray; American Animals may not be the best film I’ve seen this year, but it was a fascinating story I feel is worth looking into.
Scarface by Howard Hawks (1932)
Set in Chicago in the 1920s, Scarface follows the story of Italian immigrant Antonio “Tony” Camonte, who acts on the orders of a Mafioso by the name of John “Johnny” Lovo. The plot is set in motion when he murders “Big” Louis Costillo, the leading crime boss of the South Side. This allows Johnny to take control with Tony serving as his key lieutenant. They proceed to sell illegal beer to speakeasies by the barrel while intimidating rival outfits. During their operations, Johnny repeatedly warns Tony not to expand their business into the North Side, which is controlled by Irish gangs led by O’Hara. However, Tony begins to ignore these orders, shooting up bars belonging to O’Hara, which in turn draws the attention of police and rival gangsters. Even in the face of these overwhelming odds Tony is determined to seize complete control of the city, inspired by an electric billboard advertising Cook’s Tours with the slogan “The World is Yours”.
I watched the 1983 version of Scarface for the first time over the holidays, and it quickly became a favorite of mine. I knew it was a remake for quite, but I wasn’t interested in checking the original out until I began watching older films regularly. If I watched it shortly after the remake, it would’ve been oldest film I had seen. As it stands, M predates it by a year. It is currently the oldest American film I’ve watched, however.
As it would turn out, this is a rare instance in which both the original and the remake are highly acclaimed. Having been released before the Hays Code was effected, Scarface caused quite a moral panic when it was released in 1932. After all, this film released in an era in which Al Capone, bootlegging, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre were all still fresh in everyone’s mind – and this film depicted gangsters as people who enjoy what they do and have fun. Even during production, executives tried to do what they could to make the subject matter more palatable, including shooting an alternate ending, but because the code didn’t exist, it came out more or less exactly as Mr. Hawks intended.
I can imagine that the average moviegoer going back and watching the original after having seen the 1983 Scarface will be surprised to learn it is, in a lot of ways, much darker. The film doesn’t even try to be sentimental about its subject matter with Camonte being a remorseless killer with few moral scruples to speak of. |This is someone who ends up gunning down a rival gang member as he’s recovering in a hospital.| The executives found it so difficult to handle this film, even after heavy censorship, that they shelved it, banning American screens from showing it until the late seventies. For the longest time, the only way to see the film in the United States was to visit private collectors, though because it became a favorite around the world, it was easy enough to see abroad – it was particularly popular in France.
At the end of the day, though I prefer the remake for fleshing things out better, the original is a classic as well. What I like about how Scarface was remade is that, though both versions hit a lot of the same story beats, the wildly different time periods go a long way in making the stories distinct from one another. It’s to the point where I think someone who wasn’t aware of the films’ shared name wouldn’t necessarily pick up on the fact that one is a remake of the other. Either way, for singlehandedly creating the Depression-era gangster film, the original Scarface is worth checking out.