A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Friday, January 17, 2020
Climate Change Parables at the Metrograph
An Overview of Hollywood and International Films Depicting Ecological Disasters with In-Person Appearances by Naomi Klein, Ashley Dawson, and more
“I don’t know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty.”— First Reformed
Beginning February 21, and continuing until Earth Day (April 22) in 2020, Metrograph will present Climate Change Parables, a series of Hollywood and International films that envision the global fallout of climate change. Cinema has been reckoning with the impending environmental collapse for some time and these depictions are more relevant than ever now that our fear of time running out is truly palpable. The movies in Climate Crisis Parables imagine the aftermath of humankind’s recklessness and what might come when our species no longer exists. The program is composed of scripted films rather than documentaries because the existential threat posed to future generations is best explored with speculative forms of storytelling and while these films often strike a grave and cautioning in tone, they are spectacular, even ecstatic, in scope and scale. Climate change experts will introduce the films using their fictional scenarios as entry points to the discussion of real-world issues, anchoring our increasingly surreal daily reality with research and perspective, and highlighting the imperative actions that must be taken right now to reverse our path towards the brink.
Climate Crisis Parables is presented in partnership with Harper’s Magazine, a publication that regularly considers environmental issues and the fate of our planet in essays and reporting by such writers as Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Rebecca Solnit; and Extinction Rebellion Lower East Side Neighborhood Group.
Sunday, February 23
with Author/Activist Naomi Klein In-Person
Princess Mononoke(Hayao Miyazaki/1999/133 mins/DCP) Clashing with a archdemon boar, warrior Ashitaka is stricken with an empowering but ultimately fatal curse, and journeying into the unknown of the Great Forest in search of a cure, meets the fierce titular warrior woman, raised by wolf-gods. Miyazaki’s gorgeously animated, mythic tale about a battle between humans and ancient forest spirits is an epic with an environmental message, justly a phenomenon in Japan on its initial release.
Saturday, February 29 with Author/Activist Ashley Dawson In-Person
Snowpiercer(Bong Joon-ho/2013/126 mins/DCP)
Bong’s sci-fi actioner sets its scene aboard a high-speed train coursing along on a globe-spanning track, carrying the last survivors of an earth rendered uninhabitable, a frozen wasteland following a failed attempt to stop global warming. Boasting an ensemble cast that includes Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, and Tilda Swinton, it’s both a ripping, white-knuckled yarn and a chilling vision of the class-stratified future that might belong to climate change refugees in a pitiless, dog-eat-dog world.
To Be Scheduled, with Guests Announced Soon
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence(Steven Spielberg/2001/146 mins/35mm)
The seemingly disparate sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, who left this science-fiction Pinnochio story unrealized at the time of his death, here achieve an unexpected harmony. Haley Joel Osment plays a robot child abandoned by his adopted parents to the cruel (if astonishingly realized) outside world, in a film that finds Spielberg at his most challenging and most poignant. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans(Werner Herzog/2009/122 mins/DCP)
One of the worst climate catastrophes in modern memory, the 2005 submergence of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent slow rebuilding, provides the apocalyptic stage for Herzog’s not-really-sequel. With a nothing-left-in-reserve lead performance by Nicolas Cage, a drug-and-gambling-addicted Big Easy cop who pursues his prey through a devastated cityscape, all while barely managing to keep himself together. Surreal and often startlingly funny, this is Herzog in vintage form. Blade Runner: The Final Cut(1982/2007/117 mins/DCP)
While so many special effects spectacles are lost in time like tears in the rain, Blade Runner remains the template for imagining the neon-wreathed downer of the future, every bit as influential in its vision as was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis over a half century before. Working from a novel by cult writer Philip K. Dick to create a film that would become the gold standard for sci-fi noir, director Scott shares credit here with “visual futurist” Syd Mead’s design concepts and synth pioneer Vangelis’s atmospheric score.
The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch/2019/104 mins/DCP)
Having put his inimitable stamp on the western, chanbara samurai film, vampire movie, and espionage thriller, Jarmusch has found a new genre in need of bending—the all-American zombie flick. When mangled bodies start showing up in a bucolic little town, the walking dead can’t be far behind, and so the local constabulary (Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny), katana-wielding morgue attendant Tilda Swinton, and an all-star lineup of local residents have to try to defend themselves from a revening army of ghouls. The Devil, Probably(Robert Bresson/1977/95 mins/35mm)
As The Devil, Probably begins, we see newspaper reports of a teen found dead by gunshot wound; the film then flashes back to chart the march toward death of this nihilistic, atheistic youth, as he indifferently rails against a corrupt, wretched world. This uncompromising late career masterpiece from Bresson is deeply disturbing yet strangely elating, and one of the greatest works by one of the greatest directors.
First Reformed (Paul Schrader/2018/113 mins/DCP)
The fifth film of Schrader’s so-called “man in a room” series, which includes Taxi Driver (1976) and American Gigolo (1980), First Reformed dives into consuming obsession along with its protagonist, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, extraordinary), the caretaker of a historical upstate New York church who becomes gradually possessed by a horror of forthcoming ecological catastrophe, and fixated on the idea of laying down his life to punish the corporate overlords responsible. Harrowing and, finally, hallowed—a fierce and unforgettable film.
Himizu (Sion Sono/2011/129 mins/DCP)
The aftereffects of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami continue to haunt a Japanese town in Sono’s adaptation of the manga of the same name. Teenager Yuichi, abandoned by his parents, drives inexorably towards an act of violence. This story of a gripping obsession, told with a sensitive attention to character and superb performances from its young leads, touches on the imminent threat of nuclear emergency posed by climate change, as well as the nihilistic disillusionment of youths failed by their parents’ generation.
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan/2014/169 mins/35mm)
Nolan’s outer space epic begins with an agricultural crisis on earth, a blight that will send astronaut Matthew McConaughey on a mission to find another habitable planet for our suddenly endangered species. An unabashedly emotional blockbuster, stirring and surprising. “Like the great space epics of the past, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar distills terrestrial anxieties and aspirations into a potent pop parable, a mirror of the mood down here on earth.”—The New York Times
Melancholia (Lars von Trier/2011/135 mins/35mm)
The possibilities for ecological apocalypse extend beyond the bounds of even our own solar system in Von Trier’s cosmic-view diptych drama, which begins with a wedding party gone awry and ends in the shadow of an incoming extinction-level event. Shot through from beginning to end with a profound feeling for what it is to live in the grips of depression, as Kirsten Dunst’s baleful bride predicts forthcoming catastrophe, telling sister Charlotte Gainsbourg, “The Earth is evil, we don’t need to grieve for it. Nobody will miss it.” Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni/1964/117 mins/35mm)
Antonioni had never made a color film before embarking on Red Desert, and nobody had made a color film quite like what he came up with. Ending the trilogy that began with L’Avventura Antonioni painted a picture of contemporary sci-fi dystopia with a palette of eye-searing chemical spills, the terrible, beautiful industrial hellscape which persecutes Monica Vitti’s neurasthenic housewife, who takes up with her factory owner husband’s associate, played by Richard Harris. A hypnotic vision of environmental and spiritual catastrophe, inextricably combined. Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky/1979/163 mins/DCP)
When reference is made in Twin Peaks: The Return to “The Zone,” it seems an awful lot like a homage to Tarkovsky’s stunning, haunted sepia-toned sci-fi masterpiece, in which a scientist and a writer living in a broken-down totalitarian dystopia recruit the help of a “Stalker”—a kind of post-apocalyptic Sherpa—to guide them on a voyage of self-discovery, passing through the bleak, otherworldly Zone, hoping to discover therein a haven that will fulfill their secret desires.
Still Life (Jia Zhangke/2006/111 mins/35mm)
A man (Han Sanming) and a woman (Zhao Tao) search for their respective spouses while the threat of a massive man-made ecological event looms in the background: the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, which poses an immediate threat to the town of Fengjie, where both have arrived to meet their spouses. Personal catastrophe echoes destruction on an epic scale in Jia’s justly acclaimed film, which illustrates the terrifying ability of the monolithic Chinese state to permanently alter a landscape, and the impact of such changes on the psychosocial makeup of a city. Workingman's Death (Michael Glawogger/2005/122 mins/DCP)
Is it possible to make a post-apocalyptic movie set in the present day? Glawogger’s globe-spanning documentary panorama, at any rate, comes awfully close. Vignettes of manual laborers at work reveal a world of grueling effort and Stygian landscapes, including illegal coal mines in the Ukraine, a sulfur mine in Indonesia, a Pakistani shipbreaking ground, and a slaughter yard in Nigeria. A litany of images of backbreaking toil and ecological devastation, suggesting that for many outside of the privileged west, the end of the world is already here.