Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Impression: In the new movie by Yorgos Lanthimos, Collin Farrel’s character (Steven) seems like a continuation of the part he played in the The Lobster. The acting is the exact same deadpan, no emotion with rapidly fired words said in monotone.  But it is more than that, the type of things he says are things that are just not said in society: people might think them, but they don’t say them.  Because they are uncomfortable and go against conventions about what is appropriate and what is not. Things like “Our daughter started menstruating last week,” are not normally said in small talk at a work function. Basically, his character is what would normally be seen as socially awkward. Except that the society which Lanthimos constructs has different rules than ours and there is no reaction to what he says,  just the audience’s laughter at the inappropriateness of the situation. In our world.
In the worlds Lanthimos constructs inside his films, there is actually no concept of inappropriateness. And this is the basis upon which he then builds situations which would otherwise be absurd, like the world in which you have to be coupled up or turned into an animal in the Lobster, or lack of knowledge of the outside world beyond what their parents make up for the kids in Dogtooth, or a teenage boy (Martin) constantly invading Steven’s family life in this film.  The smaller inappropriate behaviors are never questioned, and so the characters keep pushing against each other. But eventually, even in Lanthimos’ world, it does get to the point where it makes his characters uncomfortable. Because even without societal norms, on an individual level, there are lines that can be crossed.
In this movie, Steven is a surgeon with a seemingly perfect family.  He spends a lot of time interacting with Martin, who he introduces to his family. Eventually, the boy demands more and more of his time and attention.  When Farrell awkwardly starts avoiding him, things beyond his control start happening to his family, and the boy’s revenge plot is foisted on him.  Lanthimos’ previous films, just like this one, dealt with rules, and arbitrariness of rules. In Dogtooth, it was the parents who made the rules for the world in which they kept their children, in Lobster, the rebels made rules to rebel against the rules of the mainstream world. Here, Martin makes up his own rules about what is right and what is wrong and has the power to make others conform to his rules. Lanthimos’ films leave me with a sense of unease. Where do rules come from? Are all rules basically arbitrary? Must all human interactions be governed by rules? Even if we acknowledge them as arbitrary?
Facts:  Supernatural events start transpiring to Steven’s family once he refuses to have contact with a teenager who seemingly started out as a friend.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It was my favorite film I saw at TIFF this year.
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B. Monkey (1998)

Impression: This is my favorite example of a movie which I don’t think is objectively good, but I still love! I guess I love the idea of Beatrice being a badass. Who has not had an office job they found boring and daydreamt of being a badass by night? Well, Beatrice makes all your dreams (and nightmares!) come true. She is a skilled jewel thief by night, and she hangs out with some shady characters who are purely driven by impulse and emotion and violence, and have no regard for anyone outside their little self-selected family. By chance, she crosses paths with a shy elementary  school  teacher (Alan) who is attracted to her wild ways. She plays hard to get, but eventually falls for him too. When she decides she wants to live a normal life with him, her past is hard to shake, and the ties are both practical and emotional.  No matter how far they try to run, her past keeps popping back up.  Asia Argento may not be the world’s greatest actress, but she has a presence that few can match, and I can’t plausibly see anyone else as B. Jared Harris is very understated and quietly great as Alan. And Rupert Everett is great too. The violence in this movie is sometimes brutal and unnecessary and spills over into parts of the movie where you would not expect it, but maybe there is a point somewhere there, the director is trying to make.

Another thing I love here is the soundtrack.  Alan’s character likes 30’s hot jazz, and works as a DJ in a hospital in his free time. It’s probably my favorite movie soundtrack of all time, mixing 90s brit-pop and tarantella and opera and Django Reinhardt seamlessly.  The decadent interiors and the wild costumes B. wears are memorable, as is the scene where they paint the walls of their cottage bright blue and red. I understand this movie is not technically great, but it’s one I enjoy rewatching, despite it’s faults.

Facts:  A badass thief mixed up with some shady characters, meets a mainstream guy, and tries to go straight, but keeps getting pulled back into her criminal past.

Plástico (2015)

Impression: I don’t often hate movies. I feel like my strongest negative opinion is usually indifference. And most often hate is reserved for movies which I feel were over-hyped, but not that great. So it was quite a surprise to me how strongly I disliked this small Mexican movie. It just really rubbed me the wrong way.  And it was not the kinky sex scenes that were disturbing.  It was the offensively ridiculous and very literal oversimplification of the role cause and effect plays in people’s lives. No, if your father kills himself while indulging in some strange fetish involving plastic, your two life choices are not to grow up to be 1. a miserable drunk who works in a plastics factory or 2. a fetish prostitute. I really don’t think that’s how childhood trauma works. The movie also felt way too long, although it clocked in at well under 2 hours. It definitely could have used some editing. The premise is not very complicated, and maybe could have made a decent short.  It was a mistake to structure it basically as a thriller with flash-backs to something ominous, but unclear in their childhood.  The big reveal is how the father died, which is offered up as a resolution and magical explanation of everything wrong in the adult children’s lives. It just felt like a cop out. Or is it supposed to be a cautionary tale, to not engage in weird behaviors that could kill you, because you will ruin your children’s lives? I am not sure.

Facts: An estranged brother and sister lead depressing and unfulfilling lives as a result of something that happened in their childhood.

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Impression: Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love this film. And has likely been forced to watch it with me. I am not sure if I can properly articulate what I love so much about this one, but I will try. I’ve never been very into weddings, or any of the things that Muriel is into. But I do appreciate the feeling of wanting to define who you are without the weight of personal history and environment, the allure of being able to completely redefine yourself in a new place and wipe the slate clean. In fact, I have done it myself more times than I can count, but never as radically as Muriel does with the help of Rhonda. Rhonda is the best friend you’ve always wanted, wild, crazy, accepting of all your faults and not the least bit judgmental. The strong female friendship is the centerpiece of the story. But that plot line could have come off as somewhat cheesy and cliché. It’s that particularly Aussie movie atmosphere that lifts it: the easy mix of hilariously ridiculous intertwined with the tragically sad, the unapologetic archetypes and the raw display of the basest human emotion, completely judgmental, and at the same time completely accepting of it all as just human.  And the ABBA and the accents. Those don’t hurt either.
Facts: An awkward Australian girl comes out of her shell when she makes some selfish choices and runs away from her family and small town.
Extra: I remember going to see this for the first time in the movie theater in Florida with my dad. It was a Sunday,  first day of daylight savings time, and we forgot and showed up an hour early. I have seen is at least 10 times since.

Trainspotting (1996)

Impression:  I was 19 when I first saw this movie and loved it. I recently saw it at almost 40, with a teenager, wondering if it will stand the test of time. I am pleased to report it has aged well. Heroin chic never goes out of style, I guess. The fashion is not all that different, and the themes are universal, the aimlessness of early adulthood, the ups and downs of friendships, the selfishness, the humor.  Kelly MacDonald gives one of her best performances as Diane: witty, beautiful, feminist to her teenage core. The style of the movie, which at the time was somewhat of a novelty, still seems modern. The magic realism, explained away by drug use and hallucinations, still dreams up some of the most memorable scenes put on film: never been able to erase the scene of Renton diving into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland” or the baby crawling on the ceiling. The mid 90’s were an important time for independent film and unfortunately this film often gets lost in the shuffle. I hope the currently shooting sequel helps it get restored to it’s rightful place in cinema history.
Facts:  A group of friends and heroin addicts wasting time and desperately seeking the next hit in 1990’s Edinburgh.

The Lobster (2015)

Impression: The acting is as deadpan as it gets, the premise and situation absurd, yet there is some uncomfortable truth behind it all.  The authorities hunting down singletons in a shopping mall, the policing of all emotions and actions, the strict enforcement of all rules, and the existence of rules that govern everything.  It can be translated as a commentary to any set of rules we blindly follow as a society, or it can be read as a commentary on marriage as an institution. The best part is that even people who reject the mainstream, and live outside its rules, feel the need to set up their own rules. Which are just the antithesis of the main stream: everything the mainstream is, the rebels are its opposite. Yet, they are just as brutal about enforcing their rules, and in both cases violence is perpetuated by society on the individual. Any deviations from the rules, or even thinking about deviating from the rules, is strictly punished. This movie stayed with me for weeks. Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most original thought provoking directors working right now. His other movie, Dogtooth was perhaps even more disturbing at creating a world with its own set of arbitrary but strict rules.
Facts:  A dystopian version of reality in which everyone who is not married is forced to do so, or will be turned into an animal of their choosing.

High-rise (2015)

Impression: Very, very odd. The 70s costumes, hairstyles, cars and furniture are all spot on and in full glory. In the intro scene you realize that something has gone very wrong in this building. The story then backflashes into a series of interconnected snapshots of inhabitants of the building interacting. The main character lives somewhere in the middle floors (middle class), there is one strong character in the  low floors (featuring a Che Guevara poster in his bedroom!)  and the ‘architect’ on the top floor (featuring a large garden with horses and goats in his rooftop garden). There are also more minor characters than one can possibly take in. Eventually it all descends into chaos, so that the goings on on screen resemble the scattered plot structure. As soon as the film ended, I had to read more about it, because it was just so strange, and I felt like there was something I must not be getting.  Once I learned it was based on a book, it seemed clearer that perhaps the movie was better understood having read it. While I am still not completely sure what it all meant, it’s definitely a film that visually stays with you for days.
Facts: Things go very wrong very fast in a London 70’s dystopian high-rise where the floor you live on is a very literal social status descriptor.