Korean Drama & Jeffrey Dahmer Top This Week’s Movie Picks

Popcorn & Candy used to be DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

(Courtesy of The Freer)


After being fired from a job he’s had for 18 years, a middle manager in South Korea grows increasingly violent, the loss affecting his whole family as his wife is pressued to pick up the slack and their daughter worries about college. This weekend the Korean Film Festival continues at the Freer with a drama that, according to the Gallery, “illustrates the toll Korea’s hyper-competitive society can take on an ordinary family.”  Variety’s Maggie Lee writes that, “writer-director Shin Dong-il (“Bandhobi”) observes the breakdown of a bourgeois family under financial pressures with characteristic mordant humor, while suggesting that hope and succor are not entirely out of reach.”

Watch the trailer.
Friday, November 17 at 7 p.m. at the Freer. Free.

Kim Ok-bin (WellGo USA)


Meanwhile, for its share of the Korean Film Festival, the AFI Silver brings back this kinetic action thriller that had a brief commercial run in September. In my DCist review, I wrote, “This is a stylish but messy film, and not just due to the gallons of red corn syrup. The fractured timeline keeps the potentially heart-tugging plot point of Sook-hee’s endangered child from packing its full emotional punch. But all is forgiven by the film’s final sequence, an extended piece of meticulously choreographed and dazzling stunt work that tops the film’s impressive opening.”

Watch the trailer.
Friday, November 17, Saturday, November 18 and Wednesday, November 22 at the AFI Silver.



One of the greatest of Hollywood legends, Louise Brooks (1906-1985) stopped making movies in 1938. But remarkably, her classic look has never really gone out of style. This weekend the AFI Silver continues its Silent Cinema Showcase with this rarely revived drama from Italian director Augusto Genina. In what would be her last starring role, Brooks plays a Paris typist who wins a beauty pageant, and begins to lose her friends when opportunity knocks. Live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne will complement this 1930 silent. Also screening at the AFI this weekend: a 35mm print of Jane Eyre (November 18 at 1:30 p.m.), starring Joan Fontaine as the Brontë heroine and Orson Welles as Edward Rochester.

Prix de Beauté screens Saturday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver.

(Bistro Bohem)


In conjunction with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Shaw’s Bistro Bohem has hosted its Film and Beer series for six years, and this season’s focus is on Czech musicals and comedies. Next week the series offers director Oldřich Lipský’s 1983 fairy tale Three Veterans (Tři veteráni) , which tells the story of three men “visited by elves who bestow them with a magical hat, bag full of gold, and harp that just might make their wishes come true. ” The screening include a free beer, which may well start attendees on the way their own magical awakening.

Tuesday, November 21 7 pm at Bistro Bohem, 600 Florida Avenue, NW. Free, RSVP required: 202/735-5895 or bistrobohem@gmail.com Guests must arrive by 6:45 pm to keep their reservation.



As November winds down and thoughts turn to tryptophan hangovers and Record Store Black Friday, its nice to know that we can depend on certain holiday traditions–like the Washington Psychotronic Film Society’s annual screening of this 1972 horror movie about a Vietnam veteran who turns into homicidal poultry. In these times of increasing discord, let us come together to give thanks.

Watch the trailer.
Monday, November 20 at 8 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.

Also opening this week, My Friend Dahmer, a portrait of the serial killer as a young man. Read my Washington Post review.


The Mexican Fireworks of ‘Brimstone & Glory’ Top Your Movie Picks This Week

In the absence of DCist, I will continue to bring you my picks for the most interesting indie and repertory films playing around town in the coming week.



For ten days in March, the city of Tultepec, Mexico celebrates the Feast of San Juan de Dios, in honor of a 16th century figure who is said to have rescued patients from a burning hospital and emerged unscathed. How to you give props to the patron saint of fireworks? With the most insane pyrotechnic display you have ever seen. The first feature from director Viktor Jakovlesk takes you from the dizzying heights of precariously high scaffolding to the sparkling inferno of Tultepec’s version of the running of the bulls, in which townspeople build massive bull-shaped frames on which to hang beautiful, dangerous bursts of fire. If it looks painful, that’s because it is; as you see pyrotechnicians assemble this year’s gunpowder cocktails, the camera briefly lingers on an elderly man  putting a bomb together with one hand. But its part and parcel of a culture in which first Communion cakes are lit with roman candles. From the producers of Beasts of the Southern Wild,  which you may recall featured a pretty sweet fireworks scene, Brimstone & Glory is a metal Catholic spectacle that should be seen on the big screen.

Watch the trailer.
Opens November 10 at Landmark West End Cinema.

(Samuel Goldwyn Films)


Seyl (Aml Ameen) is a young Nigerian-American who struggles to balance his job as a Wall Street financier with the demands of his family—particularly his father, who has disappointed his son in the past but is in need of extra care following a stroke. This is the first feature for Nigerian-born director Anthony Onah, and he coaxes Ameen into a performance that keeps you rooting for Seyl even as you chide him for dissing his dad to go out with a white girl. The Price follows a predictable rhythm, but what makes the movie is its attention to the details of a young man trying to shed his immigrant Catholic upbringing for a lucrative but perhaps unrewarding career.

Watch the trailer.
Opens November 10 at the AMC Apple Blossom 12 in Winchester, VA.

(The Criterion Collection)


Writer-producer Michael Fitzgerald, whose father was Flannery O’Connor’s literary executor, appears at the AFI Silver this weekend for a special 35mm screening of John Huston’s Wise Blood, adapted from O’Connor’s novel. Brad Dourif stars as Hazel Motes, a Georgia man who forms a Church Without Christ. Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times that the film, ” is so eccentric, so funny, so surprising, and so haunting that it is difficult to believe it is not the first film of some enfant terrible instead of the thirty-third feature by a man who is now in his seventies.”  Co-presented with the Crossroads Cultural Center.

Watch the trailer.
Saturday, November 11 at 7 p.m. at the AFI Silver.

(Warner Bros.)


Thanks to Chris Kilmek for the tip that, as part of a double bill with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the Warner Bros. Theatre at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum will be screening the last circulating 35mm print of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman. Christopher Reeve stars as the Man of Steel in a script penned by a team that included Godfather author Mario Puzo. The late Robert Ebert, revisiting the film in 2010, wrote that, “Donner pulls off a balancing act involving satire, action, rom-com clichés and of course a full serving of clichés from hard-boiled newspaper movies. What’s admirable is that Salkind and Donner realized they had to make a comedy.”

Watch the trailer.
Sunday, November 12 at 3 p.m. at the Smithonian’s American History Museum, Warner Bros. Theater. Buy tickets here.



This weekend the Korean Film Festival returns to the Freer’s now refurbished Meyer Auditorium with a documentary about a satirical punk band whose “antics … include blasting through one hundred songs in ten minutes in their first gig and titling one of their songs ‘All Hail Kim Jong-il,’  [taking] aim at the absurdities, inequality, and corruption of South Korean society.” Festival screenings are also scheduled for the AFI Silver, which will offer a brief theatrical run of director Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (November 11-13 & 15-16 at the AFi Silver), originally  released directly to Netflix.

Watch the trailer.
Friday, November 10 at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Is A Good Comedy With a Great Villain

Cate Blanchett and Karl Urban (Marvel Studios)

Come for the comic-book mythology, stay for the punch lines. The latest installment of the MCU is also Hollywood’s latest  attempt to recruit a successful indie director to helm a megabloated blockbuster.

Thor: Ragnarok is not-as-good-as-an-indie, but it’s still a far-better-than-usual-Marvel-joint. Its humor connects it to director Taika Waititi’s previous films, but an action movie doesn’t work without a good villain, and Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a sleek, impressive foil.

New Zealand actor-director Waititi has until now been known for such wry comedies as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. His superheroic debut doesn’t have a single line as hilarious as Jemaine Clement’s line about sandwiches in Shadows. On the other hand, if the Marvelmanianc declaring it a mere B- on his way out of the screening is a typical response from the target demographic, this thing may be too funny, too idiosyncratic in its deadpan beats and dry asides.

Which isn’t to say that the MCU is completely humorless, but from Avengers : Age of Ultron to Captain America: Civil War, these movies took themselves way too seriously despite the occasional scruffy quip from Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark.

What changed the landscape a bit was 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the entirety of which, as I mused on Spectrum Culture,  seems like an extended metaphor for Peter’s grief, as if the entire movie was spun out of the mix-tapes his late mother made for him. Chris Pratt set a different tone, heroic but vulnerable and very human, at times overwhelmed by the varied aliens that surrounded him but enjoying the ride.

The bemuscled god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) isn’t an especially lighthearted hero, no matter that he looks like he’s burst out of a Molly Hatchet album cover. Waititi doesn’t force Hemsworth to carry the full burden of myth on his shoulders, and if his trials seem less urgent, that also gives him room to breathe.

And what a breathtaking evil is Blanchett as Thor’s evil sister Hela, ebony antlers jutting out of her regal frame as she makes an overstuffed ham and malice sandwich out of every scene she inhabits.

Comic relief duties are carried in part by the unassuming pile of rocks named Korg (voiced by Waititi). But the big black wolf’s share of the humor goes to Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. Now, I am no fan of Goldblum, and am usually irritated by his smarm, but he hits the exact right balance of genteel viciousness, mock-warning Thor’s opponent in battle that the son of Odin “sparkles!

Wit ha score from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh that conjures ’80s Saturday morning television, Thor: Ragnarok sometimes has the heart of a much cheaper movie, and that’s a good thing. It may not be what you want from a Marvel movie, but that’s exactly what makes it a better Marvel movie.

Thor: Ragnarok
Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost
With Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson,
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Opens today at a theatre near you.

Samurai Revenge And Art World Satire Top Your Movie Picks This Week

Update: DCist archives are up, for now;  here are my blurbs as first published. I still plan to put up new content here, time-permitting.
As you may know, DCist, the site I’ve been freelancing for since 2010, was unceremoniously shuttered yesterday.  I’m lucky that it wasn’t my main gig;  I feel worst for the freelancers and staff who depended on the site for their livelihood; they are hard-working, thoughtful writers and editors and I hope this ending leads to new and better opportunities for everyone involved.
Meanwhile, I have grown accustomed to weekly deadlines and late-night screeners and judicious selection of Washington-area movie highlights. I’ve especially tried to showcase 35mm screenings in the area, which I’m glad to say have seen a slight uptick in the past year.  So I am dusting off this long-dormant blog and will continue to compile information about local openings and screenings. This was my last post on DCist, originally published about an hour before the site went dark.


Elisabeth Moss and Claes Bang (Magnolia Pictures)


Christian (Claes Bang) is the curator at a modern art museum in Stockholm. A typical exhibition is dryly and accurately titled, “Mirrors and Piles of Gravel,” but the minimalist piece he’s set to promote next is a conceptual piece that comes with the instruction, “The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure) directed this wicked if obvious satire of the art world, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Like mother!The Square has become one of the year’s more divisive films (I hated mother! and loved this, while a number of respected peers take the opposite position). Elisabeth Moss and animal actor Terry Notary co-star in a stylish, cynical dramedy whose two-and-a-half hour run time flew by for me.

Watch the trailer.
Opens tomorrow at Landmark E Street Cinema, Landmark Bethesda Row, Angelika Mosaic, and Cinema Arts Theatre.

Takuya Kimura and Hana Sugisaki (Magnet Releasing)


Manji is a master samurai who would have been content to die after he watched his little sister die in a heartbreaking attack. But a mysterious old woman feeds him bloodworms that heal even the most brutal wounds—making him an unkillable foe. When a young girl asks Manji’s help to avenge her father’s death, hundreds of deaths and buckets of blood ensue. One-time boy band singer Takuya Kimura plays the scarred immortal with a surprising ruggedness that at times recalls Seijun Suzuki regular Jô Shishido. If the well-choreographed swordplay is poorly edited (what do they think this is, an American picture?), Audition director Takashi Miike, in his 100th film, keeps things moving for nearly two and a half hours of splatter. Revenge is slow, long, and sticky.

Watch the trailer.
Opens tomorrow at Landmark Atlantic Plumbing.



When the patriarch of the Ullrich family dies, Phillip (Laurence Rupp of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) is charged with taking over his father’s business in Vienna. But the transition of power is complicated when dead ancestors start showing up. Cineropa.org writes that the film is, “a supernatural comedy whodunit, but the kind that is shrewd enough to realise that the dark secrets of a family can never be isolated from the rottenness of society itself.” Night of 1000 Hours is one of the highlights of the Goethe-Institut’s Film|Neu festival, which has showcased new films from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for 25 years. See the full schedule here.

Watch the trailer.
Saturday, November 4 at 9 p.m. at Landmark E Street Cinema.

(National Film Foundation of Russian Federation)


This weekend the AFI’s Silent Cinema Showcase screens a 35mm print of the debut film from one of the most influential of Soviet filmmakers. Sergei Eisenstein was only 26 when he directed this tale of a factory uprising in Tsar-era Russia. The New York Times’ Dave Kehr writes that while “the film offers few examples of [Eistenstein’s] ‘dialectical’ collision of shots to create new ideas, it does suggest a director with a very distinctive approach to cutting film.” This 1925 silent will be accompanied by live music from the Alloy Orchestra.

Saturday, November 4 at 4:30 p.m. at the AFI Silver.



I’ll let the Washington Psychotronic Film Society describe their next offering, a 1976 film from director Frank Agrama (Dawn of the Mummy). “A female film crew travels to Africa where they discover the female natives worship a female giant ape. The ape then falls in love with the male star of the film, Ray Fay. Get the feeling that perhaps the writing credits were exaggerations?” Producer Dino De Laurentis, who was working on his own King Kong remake and at the time owned the rights to the 1933 original, took legal action against this UK spoof, preventing a theatrical release. Queen Kong has a Japanese following, and in a reversal of the Woody Allen spoof What’s Up Tiger Lily?, which added English dialogue to a Japanese B-movie, Japanese comedians reportedly came up with their own dialogue for this stinker and released in on DVD.

Watch the trailer.
Monday, November 6 at 8 p.m. at Smoke and Barrel.

Also opening this week, New Zealand actor-director Taika Waititi puts a comedic spin on the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor: Ragnarok. We [might] have a full review [today].


Book Review: ‘A Complete Guide to Ventriloquism: Principles, Practice and Performance,’ by Dr., Naveen Sridhar

9781463684372_p0_v1_s260x420Article first published as Book Review: ‘A Complete Guide to Ventriloquism: Principles, Practice and Performance’ by Dr. Naveen Sridhar on Blogcritics, where I’ve logged seven other reviews this month.  Movies: 3:10 to Yuma and Jubal,  The Pierre Etaix Collection, the Vietnamese nail-salon melodrama Touch, and the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me;  a new translation of Sakyo Komatsu’s classic (but really boring) 1960s sci-fi novel Virus: The Day of Resurrection; a reissue series of three Swamp Dogg albums from the early 1970s; and a couple of episodes of River Monsters. This list doesn’t include the weekly writing I do over at DCist, and the outlet I’ll start writing for any day now, Spectrum Culture.

The art of ventriloquism can seem Sisyphean in nature. An apprentice works long and hard on vocal technique and hones routines for comedy audiences prone to heckling, all in order to find their creative voice through the plaster jaws of a blank-eyed familiar. The field has been the subject of a pair of documentaries in the past few years. I’m no Dummy looks at the history of the field through vent greats like Paul Winchell and Senor Wences to contemporaries like Jeff Dunham. Dumbstruck is a moving study of struggling unknowns. Both films emphasize the hard work of throwing your voice, but viewers of the latter film, when faced with the vents who didn’t make it, or haven’t yet … well you can’t blame audiences for finding them a bit creepy.

Ventriloquism is loaded with a stigma of uncoolness. When is the last time you saw a hipster ventriloquist? But more than just square, the ventriloquist often comes off as strange. The travel guide Buenos AIires Bizarrohas a whole chapter on the city’s vent scene. Ventriloquist instruction goes even further into the unknown, culminating in recordings like this mysterious instruction to Throw Your Voice.

Despite these hurdles of societal acceptance, throwing your voice is an intriguing creative outlet. Everyone puts on a mask when talking to strangers; the vent simply externalizes this mask. Several years ago, I was stuck on a writing project when I happened on a jawless ventriloquist dummy on eBay. I called him Mmrma, which is how I imagined a jawless dummy would struggle through the sound of the name Mortimer. With my dummy in hand, I found my story, throwing my literary voice through this damaged conduit. But what if I actually wanted to learn how to use it?

Mmrma, a dummy from the reviewer's personal collection.
Mmrma, a dummy from the reviewer’s personal collection.

I strongly suggest that would-be practitioners of the art consult a new guide to ventriloquism. Dr. Naveen Sridhar earnestly takes the art seriously, even making apologies in an eloquent preface to his book A Complete Guide to Ventriloquism: Principles, Practice and Performance. Sridhar does not make any false promises, and admits that he cannot guarantee that one can learn the art from his book, or any book for that matter. He answers an issue that had never occurred to me: for those worried that such knowledge may “fall into the wrong hands,” Sridhar assures them that “whether it would seduce less serious dilettantes to abuse the art, proliferating it and making it profane, I believe such a fear is unfounded.”

This is a good example of the author’s elegant if slightly awkward language. Sridhar writes with a kind of old-fashioned formality that makes one imagine the book as not a 21st century release but a musty nineteenth-century edition with marbled endpapers and mild foxing. Such is his literary ventriloquism. This formality also lends itself to clarity: He cannot guarantee success, but his instructions, and diagrams, are easy to follow.

The technical aspects of ventriloquism may not appeal to the casual reader, but his tutelage also provides helpful guides to life. In a section on dealing with hecklers, Dr. Sridhar offers his optimistic worldview”All men and women are by nature peaceful and happy.” I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to take up a ventriloquist dummy right there.

VOD Review: A Band Called Death

Article first published as Music DVD Review: A Band Called Death on Blogcritics.

We live in the middle of a golden age of documentaries. For the past few years, music documentaries have featured prominently in my top ten lists. Paul Williams: Still Alive and Searching for Sugar Man were among my favorite movies last year, and this year Beware of Mr. Baker will probably sit beside sit title on my year-end list.

What this cross-section of music docs has in common is at least the perception that the subject documented has fallen out of the public eye. The story behind Death goes further than that. The all-black power trio from Detroit played a fierce and fast rock and roll that, like fellow Detroit bands like the MC5 and The Stooges, anticipated punk. Until a few years ago, hardly anyone had heard them.

Death only released one 45 in their lifetime, and as the story goes, were almost signed by Clive Davis. The Arista records impresario was ready to snap up their debut album, recorded at Detroit’s legendary United Sound Recording Studio, on one condition: they change their name. David Hackney, one of three brothers who made up the band, had developed a fairly positive symbolism around the band’s name, and refused to change, leaving the demo tape to smolder in obscurity for decades.

The band may have been ahead of their time but they were not influential. By the time the 45s got into the hands of hipsters, their music was quaint and their name an asset. The movie’s strength is that it doesn’t depend on the music for its dramatic weight. This is a movie about family: three brothers trying to make it as musicians in a Detroit whose black music scene was generally more favorable to R&B acts (the P-Funk Diaspora aside), a mother who supported her sons’ creative ventures even if the din drove her crazy, and supportive siblings with great personality and affection for each other.

A third-act sidebar brings in the outside world. When Death’s sole 45, “Politicians in my eyes,” got into the hands of record collector/former Dead Kennedy’s front man Jello Biafra, word began to spread, and reached critical mass around the time of a New York Times article in 2009, the same year their   1974 album ...For The Whole World To See was finally released on Drag City.

The band’s discovery could have made for an annoying aside – the always self-righteous Henry Rollins is the most prominent of the hipster talking heads assembled. These celebrity appearances are thankfully kept to a minimum, and the next generation of the family rises to the occasion to make this music come to life again. Even if you don’t think Death is the second coming of rock and roll, as a movie, A Band Called Death rocks hard.

A Band Called Death will be available for digital download and VOD on Friday, May 24. Pre-order on iTunes here.

DVD Review: Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event

(Stephanie Berger/Park Avenue Armory)
(Stephanie Berger/Park Avenue Armory)

Article first published as DVD Review: Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event on Blogcritics.

The work of the late choreographer Merce Cunningham, who passed away in 2009, was well documented by videographer Charles Atlas. His work can be found on Microcinema’s three-disc set Merce Cunningham Dance Company: Robert Rauschenberg Collaborations. Atlas shot dancers in static, uninterrupted takes, and this theatrical simplicity captured sets and costumes in a controlled if somewhat clinical setting. In motion picture terms, Atlas’s work sometimes felt more like a document than art.

Perhaps a better tribute to an artist who threw the I Ching and thrived on serendipity is Microcinema’s release of the 3-DVD set Merce Cunningham Dance Company Park Avenue Armory Event . The surviving company performed six pieces across three stages in the round in the Park Avenue Armory’s drill hall. The event took place in the days before New Year’s Eve 2011, and the resulting video captures the spectacle that rang out the old year and sent off one of the great choreographers.

The filmmakers convey the excitement of that performance by taking an approach far from the clinical work of Atlas. Two camera teams operating fourteen cameras filmed the event in a variety of angles, alternating distant views of the action appearing on all three stages, with close ups that focus on the featured dancers on a single stage. In other words, cinema.

The documentary begins with behind the scenes excitement: close-ups of the printed program, shots of taxis depositing attendees and moving away into an artfully blurred Manhattan nightscape. This approach reveals more of the art by sometimes looking away from it.

The first disc is an edited one-hour summation of the Park Avenue shows, but two generous bonus discs provide both single shot versions of each if the pieces performed as well as bonus repertory performances from the tour. These last include footage shot by Charles Atlas, which are a starkly academic contrast to the main event. These repertory excerpts include the challenging “CRWDSPCR,” a piece that demands a dynamic visual approach. The static camera that Atlas points at the dancers record the work but do not engage with it. I’m glad I have Atlas’s dance videos on my DVD shelf, but when I want to watch some Merce Cunningham, I’ll put on the Park Avenue Armory Event.