by Chris Mello

by Chris Mello Retrospective Film

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? | Sion Sono

August 26, 2016
Why Don't

There’s a moment late in Why Don’t You Play in Hell? that neatly sums up Sion Sono’s distinctive vision. A boy crawls through a blood-soaked room to be next to the girl he loves, a girl he’s only just met — and there’s a sword running through his head as he does this, transforming him into a sort of grotesque unicorn. As in many of Sono’s best films, the extravagant violence here is motivated by grandiose emotions. And while it makes loud…

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by Chris Mello Retrospective Film

Noriko’s Dinner Table | Sion Sono

August 17, 2016
Noriko's Dinner Table

Though it sports a few grisly images of its own, Noriko’s Dinner Table borrows most of its bloodshed from its companion film, Suicide Club. Sono repurposes the opening of his breakthrough—during which 54 high school students jump in front of an oncoming train—several times here, first for context and later for impact. But rather than repeat himself, Sono fashions Noriko’s Dinner Table as a melodrama about the dissolution of family and the creation of oneself in the internet era. Its most…

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by Chris Mello Retrospective Film

Decisive Match! Girls Dorm Against Boys Dorm | Sion Sono

August 5, 2016
Girls Dorm

Watching his 1988 film Decisive Match! Girls Dorm Against Boys Dorm, it’s hard not to imagine what a post-Suicide Club Sion Sono would do with this premise. Today, the battle-of-the-sexes set-up would likely lead the director to make a polished film of outsized violence and exuberant melodrama, as invested in bloodshed as it is youthful romance. But Sono’s second feature only occasionally offers glimpses of the strengths the director would later become known for. Take, for example, “the Boss” (Hiromi Kawanishi), the tough-as-nails leader…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

Ip Man 3 | Wilson Yip

February 10, 2016
ipman3

The most admirable aspect of Wilson Yip’s Ip Man movies is their disinterest in typical biopic aspirations. Instead these films favor strong martial arts action and introspective melodrama. Previous installments have reduced the relationship between Ip and his most famous student, Bruce Lee, to little more than a cursory head-nod, marginalizing the grandmaster’s real life legacy in favor of a melange of superheroic ass-whoopings. In these films, Ip Man is much more…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb | Shawn Levy

December 23, 2014
nightmuseumsecret

Shawn Levy’s third Night at the Museum film immediately announces its most disconcerting element— its retrograde Orientalist bent—by opening with a 1934 archaeological excavation in Egypt, which, as is the case with most adventure-film flashback prologues of this kind, establishes a cursed object. In this case, the object in question is the Tablet of Ahkmenrah, which, in the present day, is the source of the magic that brings all the exhibits of the Museum of Natural History to life at…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

Inherent Vice | Paul Thomas Anderson

December 17, 2014
inherentvice

Many consider Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice to be a minor work; the New York Times’ review dubbed it “Pynchon Lite.” Choosing a seriocomic yarn about a perpetually weed-affected private dick as the source material for his seventh feature might have seemed like similarly trivial territory for Paul Thomas Anderson after There Will Be Blood and The Master, two grim films about corrupt, powerful men. But “minor” ultimately means little with these artistic giants in their respective fields.…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

Annabelle | John R. Leonetti

October 9, 2014
annabelle

The success of James Wan’s The Conjuring last year, like that of Paranormal Activity back in 2009, points to a wave of purely affective horror cinema, less concerned with feeding on social anxieties of their time than with crafting jump scares and a spooky atmosphere. In doing so, these films add up to little more than empty thrill rides that quickly fade once the movies end. So Annabelle, John R. Leonetti’s prequel to The Conjuring, theoretically has…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

The Boxtrolls | Graham Annable & Anthony Stacchi

September 26, 2014
boxtrolls

Having been put on the map by Coraline and Paranorman, stop-motion studio Laika returns with The Boxtrolls, a film which, while ostensibly possessing the same eye-catching visuals as the studio’s previous features, mostly feels warmed over, calling to mind not only both its predecessors, but also the tolerance-themed narratives of dozens of other animated films. There’s not much here we haven’t seen before, down to once-exciting character designs whose…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

A Walk Among the Tombstones | Scott Frank

September 24, 2014
A Walk Among The Tombstones

After opening with a swaggering bit of drunken police violence, Scott Frank’s A Walk Among the Tombstones spends its runtime bathing in its characters’ moral and psychological muck. With a grimy, pre-Y2K New York as its setting — updating Lawrence Block’s 1992 novel by seven years to place its old-school, hard-boiled detective at odds with an evolving, vaguely threatening technological landscape — the film possesses a starker aesthetic than many of its sleeker contemporaries (including recent Liam Neeson vehicles like Taken and Non-Stop), filled…

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by Chris Mello Current Film

Honeymoon | Leigh Janiak

September 16, 2014
honeymoon

The scenario behind Leigh Janiak’s debut feature Honeymoon is one of the most common in the horror genre: A newlywed couple spends their honeymoon at a cabin in the woods and everything goes horribly wrong. But while it never goes so far as to fully subvert the tropes it trades on, it refreshes those clichés with material that is as emotionally resonant as it is utterly terrifying. Honeymoon, surprisingly, turns out to be…

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