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Art House Exercise: The Beauty in Violent Subjects

It’s no secret that my obsession with neo-noir films, canny swag, neon glow, and synthesizer scores are the pure inspiration for the bulk of my articles. This writer is a ferocious and merciless blue-ribbon of 80’s pop culture and I strive to delve deep into the filmmakers’ and musicians’ contemporary objective. My objective is to assist in changing the tide of critical impressions over these films that tend to get mixed reviews. The 1980’s gaudy style cemented a deep-rooted disapproval of the brand for many. However, the 1980’s neo-noir was hands down the monarch of all the decades. Recently, several filmmakers have encompassed that style. Critically acclaimed director Michael Mann and Brian De Palma managed to popularize their films with said style, making the films cult classics today, and they’re still churning out films with the same elements. Mann gave us Thief and Manhunter then continued his success with Heat and Collateral. De Palma gave us Dressed to Kill, Scarface (which is practically soaked in Tequila Sunrise) and Body Double. His chic direction continued with Snake Eyes and Passion. The list of filmmakers with a passion for art house cinema doesn’t stop there. For those of you who also feel Michael Bay movies are for the birds, give these select few a chance.

drive

art by Rizon Parein

 

Nicolas Winding Refn was an incognizant name nonexistent in my world until my first viewing of Bronson, a cunning and boisterous tale that’s based on a true story. Then there was Drive, a brilliant crime-noir starring a cool and sleek Ryan Gosling and the breathless Carey Mulligan, eye candy for our scorpion jacketed Gosling. Our leading antagonists are masters of their craft, oozing with Jewy avarice, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.

From the moment that electric beat ignites with neon pink credits across the metropolitan area in the opening, there was no questioning Drive’s capacity to hypnotize the audience. That opening scene is irrefutable one of the more favorable openings in recent years. Gosling portrays an unnamed L.A. stunt driver who gets caught up in his neighbor’s heist, gaining the attention of two dangerous gangsters. It’s synonymous to 80s crime favorites Thief and To Live and Die in L.A. Experiencing the sound and images together is a seamless experience to be had.

Soundtrack favorites include; Kavinsky’s “Night Call,” Desire’s “Under Your Spell,” and College featuring Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero.”

theguest

art by Blood and Chocolate

 

A 2014 favorite from the depraved minds behind You’re Next that circles the life of a fallen soldier’s family and their unexpected guest declaring to have been a friend of the soldier and on the same tour overseas. His presence is untimely as people across town turn up dead.

Dan Stevens (The Guest) is a well-oiled charm machine, devoid of emotion. By machine, I do not mean an actual cyborg. This is some of the finest acting in Indie cinema that I have seen in a long time. Our leading gal is the eye-catching Maika Monroe (It Follows) soaring through the ranks to mainstream filmmaking, in my opinion. This Indie beast offers stunning cinematography and immaculate design in addition to a haunting soundtrack and mind-bending death sequences. The premises are original, paired with a stylishly written script sprinkled with dark humor.

Director Adam Wingard tangos with elements from The Terminator and just about every slasher film churned out in the 80s in which the Wingard/Barrett dream team is an obvious fan of. Simon Barrett provided the script for both The Guest and You’re Next. Some may consider this approach to filmmaking to be quite nauseating. For die-hard nostalgia geeks like me, this man is a God send. Now I am going to pretend that V/H/S didn’t happen and move on.

How can I carefully select three favorites from the soundtrack when the soundtrack is jam packed with dubious beats from start to finish? If I HAVE to choose, I must select the following; Annie’s “Anthonio, Clan of Xymox’s “A Day,” and Survive’s “Hourglass.” *Clinches fists* THAT WAS TOO HARD! Just put the entire soundtrack on repeat. “Because I Love You” by Stevie B was also a comedic treat mixed in with such a dark soundtrack.

johnwick

art by Jeremy Wheeler

 

Monotonous Keanu Reeves is back and badder than ever as one pissed off former hit-man they call The Boogeyman who just lost his wife, dog, and his precious car was stolen. The silly name is not attributed to him being a bad guy, it’s attributed to him being the guy you send to kill The Boogeyman. The first half of the film is a little emotional draining after a killer opening but when it picks up, the action is non-stop. Perhaps one of the neatest elements of the plot line is the Continental hotel where many of the exterior shots were taken. The Continental Hotel serves as a resting place for assassins around the world where they can have a drink and chillax. Handling business on the premises is strictly forbidden with devastating consequences.

John Wick (Reeves) is on a path of destruction against this filthy Russian mob that granted him a way out of the business to spend with his wife. The cause of his wife’s death was natural but the mob’s careless kid (played by that irritating, dickless wonder Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) beats Wick and kills his wife’s dog before stealing his car.

With a high body count, a surprisingly daring performance by Reeves, and deliciously meticulous exterior shots, Is there any reason to protest John Wick? The action sequences are carefully crafted and swift and did I mention Willem Dafoe is one of the assassins?

Concerning the sleazy, industrial rock soundtrack, my favorite titles include; M86 & Susie Q’s “In My Mind,” Kaleida’s “Think,” and Marilyn Manson’s “Killing Strangers.” Poster art courtesy of Behance.

nightcrawler

art by Joris Laquittant

 

Lou Bloom is a sociopath desperate for work when he discovers the fascinating world of crime journalism. With the ability to buy a camcorder and police scanner, practically anybody can become a paid camera man for the local news. Bloom manipulates and muscles his way into the corrupt field with veteran news director Nina (Rene Russo) guiding the way.

Jake Gyllenhaal brilliantly portrays a sociopathic character with traits almost identical to DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Bloom is a certified creeper that fails to struggle sending douche chills down the audience’s spine with his devilish charm. What truly sells his sleazy performance is his hair. It’s almost a supporting character. I finally have an excuse to use the term MAN BUN! Bloom has no interest in air time. His interests lie in the ability to attain his own studio and production company. Rene Russo’s appearance on-screen is refreshing with visible wrinkles and dark make-up around the eyes. Another noteworthy performance emphasizing just how vicious our veteran news director is. Bill Paxton portrays an aging, desperate camera man who has been night crawling for 14 years. There isn’t a single likeable character in Nightcrawler and that’s perfectly fine because these characters and the view of Los Angeles’ underbelly display the grimness this life secures. The exceptional acting is supported by a solid screenplay and superior cinematography. The film’s opening provides neon-lit landscapes of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, a view of the beach, a local theme park, and a full moon over the horizon.

This particular score by James Newton Howard didn’t do anything for me so I have zero song suggestions. Poster art credited to Joris Laquittant.

coldinjuly

Moving on to my least favorite on the list, we stumble upon Cold in July. Witnessing Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) sporting a mullet, complete with a Southern man’s mustache, is a vision most fans had no aspirations to behold. Hall’s success with Showtime’s Dexter and starring as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret birthed what I think is only the beginning of his success and he’s 44! His talents extend to Cold in July. While it may not be my favorite, there’s no denying his flair.

Quick brush-up on plot: A small town Texas family man shoots and kills a burglar resulting in the floodgates  opening for crooked cops, snuff videos, and the burglar’s ex-con father who is hellbent on revenge.

The actors in this feature are impeccable with Sam Shepard supporting Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson in one of his better roles. Though we get plenty of dry Texas scenery, Cold in July is a Southern-noir with pulp. The feature manages to highlight prejudice, anxiety, and greed with electric reds, blues, and greens lurking in the shadows.

Soundtrack favorites; Dynatron’s “Cosmo Black and I honestly cannot recall titles from the remaining score which was masterfully done by Jeff Grace. Poster art credited to Le Fresnoy.

housedevil

College student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) lands a bizarre babysitting job on the night of a full lunar eclipse. The gig slowly develops into a horrific chain of events that even I did not see coming. While I am not a huge fan of Ti West’s work as a whole, there are promising aspects in his projects that stand out. Much like House of the Devil which was soaked in material from the 1970’s and the 1980s.

I adored the title credits and the ending was reminiscent of several horror films of the past that left the audience with that unexplainable icky feeling. Unfortunately for Ti West, modern-day gore whores have zero desire to see a love letter to textbook 80’s horror. Nonetheless, it’s still appreciated by many movie goers like myself. Pretentious for some, fun for others. Not only were the occult films of the 80s an obvious inspiration to Ti West, John Carpenter’s Halloween was another obvious inspiration. Overall, the audience is treated with a truly ominous tone and atmosphere with the ability to develop characters. The characters are portrayed by horror and occult veterans Mary Woronov, Tom Noonan, and Dee Wallace with AJ Bowen and a new supporting actress favorite Greta Gerwig, who I fondly remember describing her period as a “Crime scene in my panties” halfway through mainstream rom/com No Strings Attached.

While the majority of the tracks are compliments of Jeff Grace, there’s a nifty dance scene with an 80s favorite, “One Thing Leads to Another” by The Fixx. People have commented on that dance scene not being realistic. I for one can vouch that I dance the same exact way in my kitchen with the same exact song playing.

beyond1
Perhaps the Queen of this list is BTBR. It isn’t fairly recent but 2010 and this list would be nothing without it. This piece is a pure emotional high in which you do not come down until the end. I feel if I attempt to detail this film I will only ruin it for you. Before all the other films on this list, seek a copy of Beyond the Black Rainbow, and watch it with the lights out. Do not attempt to read up on it or watch the trailer. I will tell you that the color schemes are orgasmic!

beyond2

My list doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for an additional selection.

About The Author
Rebekah Herzberg
Rebekah Herzberg
VHS collector, horror fanatic, and lover of the 80's neon night life. I once ate a Texas BBQ burger compiled with Mac and cheese and fried green beans. I celebrate Hanukkah.
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