Keeping with the Grindhouse motif, Rodriguez shoots in a faux-grindhouse style, with film scratches and broken jump cuts, making the film look as if it were discovered in some musty projection booth. The director is at his most outrageous and enthusiastic, going for broke in terms of gore and sex and action, but keeping a sense of professionalism and skill; the movie looks great and moves beautifully. (It’s his best work since the original El Mariachi and Spy Kids.) The cast also includes Don Johnson as a vigilante and Steven Seagal as an evil drug lord, as well as Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin, and Lindsay Lohan. A less interesting sequel, Machete Kills, followed, and there are rumors of a third, the incredible-sounding Machete Kills in Space! Meanwhile, Machete is streaming free (with ads) on Crackle.
Japanese filmmaker Takashi Shimizu struck it big with the Ju-On/Grudge series, both in Japan and in their American remakes. Those are monster stories, with the stringy-haired girl ghost attacking terrified innocent victims, but Marebito (2004), which Shimizu made in-between on a low budget, is something different. It plays with themes of fear itself, and the idea of a camera capturing the feelings of fear; it’s more of a self-exploratory horror film than a movie that’s just out to make you scream. Shinya Tsukamoto—known as the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and a star of Ichi the Killer—plays Masuoka, a man who is never without his camera. (The film itself is shot on video, as if it were stolen footage.)
He witnesses a man become so terrified that he kills himself by stabbing himself in the eye. He becomes fascinated with whatever the man saw, and begins exploring a mysterious underground world where untold horrors await. He finds the ghost of the dead man, who points him in the right (or wrong) direction. He eventually finds a naked girl (Tomomi Miyashita) who seems to be what he’s looking for, but also ought to have been left alone. This is a simple, inspired entertainment long on ideas and terror and forgoing any of the usual shortcuts or lazy filmmaking that go into most chillers. In Japanese with English subtitles.
A Band Called Death (Fandor)
This rock documentary tells the story of a crucial missing piece of music history. Punk music was thought to have originated in New York (The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls) and Detroit (The Stooges and the MC5), but it appears that it might have been invented by the African-American brothers David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney. In Detroit, blacks were expected to play soul music and aspire to Motown, but the Hackneys instead attended an Alice Cooper show and started playing fast, loud rock music.
Unfortunately, their band name, “Death,” was too controversial, and their music—only seven recorded songs—went nowhere. Visionary band leader David died, and all went quiet. That is, until their incredible, ambitious music was discovered decades later. Joey Ramone’s brother is interviewed, as well as Henry Rollins, Kid Rock, Alice Cooper, Jello Biafra, and actor Elijah Wood, who also owns a record label; each of them says, “I was totally blown away” when describing their Death encounters. The movie isn’t regretful, but instead celebrates David’s legacy and those awesome tunes that managed to find their way into the world.
The Lobster (Vudu)
I have spoken to quite a few people about this movie, which opened in May and provided a much-needed alternative to the summer’s lackluster reboots and sequels. The Lobster (2016) is a very strange little item, set in a post-apocalyptic, non-realistic future, where people are required by law to be in relationships. If, for some reason, a relationship ends, single folks are sent to a hotel, where they have 45 days to find a suitable life partner. If they fail, they will be turned into an animal of their choice. The slightly paunchy David (Colin Farrell), whose wife has just left him, brings with him a dog that used to be his brother. He himself chooses a lobster as his animal.
At the hotel, he meets a few other single men (John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw) and attempts to match himself up with a strange, unemotional woman (Angeliki Papoulia) before escaping into the woods, joining the leader (Léa Seydoux) of a rebel group and meeting an alluring woman (Rachel Weisz). Oddly, the rules of this community are just as restrictive as in the hotel. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos—who was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film for his equally strange film Dogtooth—makes his English-language debut here. The world he creates is chilly and bleak and absurd; the slow pace includes weirdly robotic line readings and sudden bursts of sex and violence, and it’s all somewhat off-putting. Yet it’s fascinating, and could be the work of a true maverick. It’s available for rental for $4.99 SD or $5.99 HD.