Alex Sitaras: I’ll jump right into things and get us started with Us (and a bad joke). Us is Jordan Peele‘s sophomore film following his immensely successful Get Out, and the film comes just two years after his directorial debut. Wasting no time whatsoever, I’m impressed by how quickly Us has come together after being announced just last February. Like Get Out, Us is a horror film. It follows a family who visits their beach house and whose vacation is interrupted by the arrival of ‘The Tethered’, a group of eerie doppelgängers who are played by the same cast members as the family. The film stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as the central characters, and also Elisabeth Moss in a supporting role. With a trailer that is equal parts disturbing and suggestive of violence, Peele has likely directed another film that will linger in the minds of audiences. And with a threat of doppelgängers, it is all but certain wrong person(s) may be killed and that already gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Ben McDonald: I’m also impressed by how fast Peele has been able to turn around and make another film. It’s a promising sign to be sure, especially after such a strong debut. One thing I was struck by in the trailer was how much more horror-centric Us appears. While Peele has very clearly indicated that Get Out was intended to be a horror film, I felt like it leaned more into its social commentary and and satirical aspects rather than simply aiming to frighten its audience. (This isn’t to say Get Out is any less scary of a film because of this). While Get Out was very much a racially-charged satire, Jordan Peele states that Us will not be centered around race at all. I think the following quote from him, taken from an interview done with Rolling Stone, is particularly insightful on his goal for the film:
“It’s important to me that we can tell black stories without it being about race. I realized I had never seen a horror movie of this kind, where there’s an African-American family at the center that just is. After you get over the initial realization that you’re watching a black family in a horror film, you’re just watching a movie. You’re just watching people. I feel like it proves a very valid and different point than Get Out, which is, not everything is about race. Get Out proved the point that everything is about race. I’ve proved both points!”
Another horror addition this month is the fifth feature film from French auteur Gaspar Noé, Climax. The film premiered at Cannes outside the Official Selection last year, and is being distributed by A24 in the United States. Climax follows an experimental dance troupe over the course of a single night’s party, watching as they lose their minds after they realize the sangria they’ve been drinking has been maliciously spiked with LSD. The film stars Sofia Boutella, along with a range of other professional dancers (Kiddy Smile, Roman Guillermic, and Souheila Yacoub, among others).
Many of Gaspar Noé’s best and most controversial films (Irréversible, Enter the Void) are often described as “bad acid trips”, so it’s somewhat amusing that the director has taken the sentiment literally in his latest project. Climax is definitely my most anticipated release this month, and I find myself continually drawn to the sheer emotional intensity and technical eccentricity of Noé’s films. Now I know you’re also a pretty big Noé fan, so is there anything specific you’re looking forward to in Climax?
Alex: There’s a few things I like about Climax. The fact it is distributed by A24 is very significant- Climax should expose a whole new subset of arthouse filmgoers to Noé’s work. I was rather surprised that Climax received acclaim from Cannes right out the gate. It isn’t usual for Noé’s films to receive almost unanimous praise (he even remarked he was taken aback), and for the film to be lauded by critics and international audiences as well as distributed by A24 provides the film with a leg up in comparison to Noé’s other works.
Like any Noé film, Climax looks to be very much the sensory experience, bathed with saturated colors, flashy lighting, and handheld camerawork. Unlike his recent films though, he has cast a Hollywood actress in Sofia Boutella to take the lead role as opposed to non-actors/newcomers. I’m looking forward to all the crazy dance sequences, seeing Boutella in what seems to be her element, and being introduced to new EDM music. A number of European films including The Great Beauty and The Square have broadened my exposure to various bands and performers, and Climax has already done so just in its first trailer alone (Cerrone‘s ‘Supernature‘).
Another wild arthouse film to come this month is Harmony Korine‘s latest: The Beach Bum. Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers) is a bit of an odd-ball of a director so it only makes sense that Snoop Dogg stars in the film as a character named Lingerie. The film follows a stoner, Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), who spends most of his time in hedonistic pursuits but also attempting to write ‘the next great American novel’ with a typewriter. Donning ridiculously hideous floral designs and spending time at the beach, Michael McConaughey no doubt signed onto this film for recreation and amusement. But, like Nicolas Cage, it’ll probably be fun to see him a little unhinged in a role like this. I’ll admit The Beach Bum doesn’t look like much going in, but Korine’s proved me wrong before with Spring Breakers and I’m eager for him to exceed expectations again.
Ben: Korine is a filmmaker I’ve been gradually exploring in the past couple of months- I recently watched his screenwriter debut in Kids and then his latest directorial effort in Spring Breakers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Spring Breakers especially surprised me in that it didn’t look like anything I could possibly want to watch- directed like a music video and nauseatingly hedonistic- but it somehow managed to feel both artistic and compellingly watchable in its own peculiar way. Judging from The Beach Bum’s trailer, it looks like Korine is continuing a lot of the satirical undercurrents he employed in Spring Breakers, and even the tropical setting looks strikingly familiar. Like you, I’m definitely stoked to watch McConaughey let loose, as those kinds of performances from him are always a blast. I take it you also enjoyed Spring Breakers?
Alex: Spring Breakers was actually my first Korine film and I almost stopped watching an hour or so into it, which would’ve been an accomplishment in itself since I almost always finish films. But then it got to the montage scene set to Britney Spears‘s ‘Everytime‘ and everything fit together. Up until that point, the film felt rather senseless. Korine’s films definitely walk a fine line between arthouse, trash, and entertainment, so when his films pay off, they really pay off. I have a certain affinity to directors that take risks like him, Noé, and Todd Solondz given the immensely high ceiling for their work, even if they can’t hit that peak every time.
Ben: Definitely agree, and that’s why I wound up liking Spring Breakers too. That Britney Spears scene pretty much encapsulates how Korine walks the line between trashy and arthouse so finely that I can’t really classify his work (or Spring Breakers in particular) as necessarily belonging to either category.
Alex: On the less unusual side, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio is releasing his third film in three years, Gloria Bell. Him and fellow countryman Pablo Larraín (Jackie, The Club) have been prolific as of late and are actively broadening the audience for Chilean cinema. Gloria Bell is an English-language remake of his breakout film Gloria and stars Julianne Moore as a women in her 50s searching for love. Apart from being one of a relatively few films that have a middle age woman as its protagonist, Gloria Bell looks to build upon the humanist thread in Lelio’s films and share his story with an American audience.
Ben: While I admittedly disliked Sebastián Lelio’s previous film Disobedience, what struck out to me about Gloria Bell in the trailer was its excellent and unique cast. The film stars Julianne Moore and John Turturro, both of whom are actors I always enjoy, along with Michael Cera and Sean Astin. As you mention, Gloria Bell seems to continue Lelio’s humanist trend, but seems at a glance far less serious than something like Disobedience or A Fantastic Woman.
The last upcoming film we’d like to talk about this month is Ash is Purest White, a Chinese crime film directed by Jia Zhangke (Mountains May Depart, A Touch of Sin, Still Life) and starring Zhao Tao and Liao Fan. Ash is Purest White follows a dancer who resolves to find her gangster boyfriend after he is released from a 5-year prison stint. The film has been described as a melodrama of sorts, and is said to continue Zhangke’s cinematic trend of exploring contemporary Chinese society. Ash is Purest White was yet another one of the countless films I missed at Cannes, so I’m looking forward to catching this whenever it makes its way towards my end of the world. I don’t have much experience with Chinese cinema, so are you at all familiar with Zhangke?
Alex: I’ve seen A Touch of Sin from Zhangke, but I’ve yet to see any other films from him. I hope to change that in the near future. In addition to exploring contemporary life in China, Ash is Purest White looks to explore themes of violence and morality, action scenes being relatively new within his filmography. The film also continues a decades-long collaboration between Zhangke and his wife, Zhao Tao, the lead actress in Ash is Purest White.