Monday, February 18, 2019

top 10 films of 2018

Here are my top 10 films of 2018.



Instead of delving into his own childhood, Alfonso Cuarón explores the story of housekeeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). An unmissable drama. The camera is fascinating in this movie: the way it moves--so mechanically--as such a humanistic tale unfolds. Every drab detail radiates.


Can You Ever Forgive Me?

I was swept up in Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of brash Lee Israrel who huckstered booksellers with forged letters. Vivid New York locales. Swoony, old-fashioned direction by Marielle Heller, which takes its time and lets its entire cast stand out.



How I loved my theatrical viewing of this twisty, pulpy heist flick, directed by Steve McQueen and co-written by Gillian Flynn, in the midst of a slushy snowstorm. Riveting and deliriously entertaining--with a great big cast--and some broad brushstrokes that I embraced. Also features one of the best cinematic sequences of the year. Hollywood makes very few smart, crackling adult dramas like this anymore.



Entrancing, engrossing mystery set in South Korea. This film has a great cinematic sequence too, a breathtaking one at dusk. It's hard to understand how a director (here, Chang-dong Lee) can sometimes so effectively put you under a spell.


The Rider

Under the ingenious direction of Chloé Zhao, The Rider follows an injured rodeo rider--his friends and family--and how his physical health impacts his dreams and livelihood. Elegantly filmed and sensitively drawn.



A tale of a stolen film and its ramifications on director Sandi Tan and her co-creators' lives. Tan packs a lot into this doc--the passing of time, film-love, and the troubling mystery at its core.


Leave No Trace

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie's performance is excellent as young daughter of a vet (Ben Foster) struggling with PTSD in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. The push and pull of what paths that these characters should take with their lives is perceptive and extremely moving.


Happy as Lazzaro

Unusual saint-maybe tale, wrapped in two distinct landscapes: rambling Italian countrysides and later, in the fringes of an urban society. With a light touch, writer / director Alice Rohrwacher's clever picture explores dark issues of morality and human behavior.


The Favourite

A seminal movie of this year. A culture of goofiness and meanness on display in these very goofy and mean times. The sharp, bracing comedy is delivered with pitch-perfect precision in delivery by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman. Colman sets the film ablaze with Queen Anne's unpredictable swings of emotion and pervasive grief.


Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham's searing and immersive look at a girl  in eighth grade. Lead Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton as concerned father both shine brightly. A seemingly simple pic, with few huge dramatic moments, and yet so quietly devastating.

the best of the rest

A Star is Born, Sorry to Bother You, Hereditary, Mandy, Cold War, Night Comes On, On Chesil Beach, Nancy, Of Fathers and Sons, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, If Beale Street Could Talk, El Angel, Shoplifters, The Wild Boys, The Hate U Give, Colette, First Man, Madeline’s Madeline, We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Ocean’s 8, The Other Side of the Wind, Suspiria, Vice, Black Panther, The Kindergarten Teacher, Minding the Gap, The Cakemaker, Love, Simon, A Quiet Place, Tully, Zama, A Private War, The Land of Steady Habits November, Unsane, The Wife, McQueen, Let the Corpses Tan, Beautiful Boy, The Day After, Disobedience, Halloween, Wildlife, Crazy Rich Asians, Support the Girls, My Art, Private Life, Crime + Punishment, Blindspotting, Game Night, Three Identical Strangers, Lean on Pete, Blame, RBG, Annihilation, Saturday Church, Werewolf, Revenge, Outside In, Flower, First Reformed, Paddington 2, Hearts Beat Loud, The Sisters Brothers, Western, Golden Exits

A look back at 2017.

-Jeffery Berg

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

tina's joy

I was inspired by Tina (portrayed by Ann Dusenberry) Jaws 2 to create this set. I think the name of her sailboat makes for a good mixtape title. Some incidental music from Jaws 2 is mixed in with a few current dance tracks. Happy listening and sailing away.


Candle on the Water (Excerpt / Intro): Helen Reddy
Mack the Knife (Loop): Axel Haglund
Girl from Ipanema (Jondai Mix): Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz
Teach Me Tonight (Excerpt): Dinah Washington
Feeling For You (Price Park Remix): Fluir
Kjeiken: Cavego
Downtown (Saint Barth Remix): Petula Clark
7 Rings (APX Remix): AG
Touch / 'Jaws' End Title Theme - Piano Version (Excerpt): Jeffery Berg
Lust - Boy Harsher
Touch ('Twell Remix ) - Interlude: Daft Punk f/Paul Williams
Sail Away (Missions Orinoco Re-Flow): Enya
Tusk (Ali Farahani Edit): Fleetwood Mac
Candle on the Water / 'Jaws' End Title Theme - Keyboard Version (Excerpt): Jeffery Berg
New Love (Radio Edit): Catz 'n Dogz
Themes from 'Jaws 2': Flyer
Touch (We Plants Are Happy Mix): Daft Punk
Touch / 'Jaws' End Title Theme - Piano Version (Excerpt): Jeffery Berg
Tina Looks Back Upon the Tragedy of Eddie's Death (Interlude)
Sailing: Christopher Cross

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

the gospel of eureka

The Gospel of Eureka reaches its peak in vivid visual symmetry between an arena Passion Play and a local drag bar. Narrated warmly by Justin Vivian Bond, the doc captures a handful of characters and the mood of its title town, Eureka Springs, burrowed in leafy Arkansas mountainside, exceptionally well. In its brisk, but leisurely and elegantly-filmed 75-minute run-time, directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's doc looks at the divides and the occasional surprising cross-sections between evangelical and LGBTQ life.

We are introduced to a son of two gay dads, now grown with children of his own. The manager of the Passion Play, staged in the mountains of the Christ of the Ozarks, the third largest Christ statue in the world, and the actor who portrays Jesus himself--with syrupy blood and bombastic resurrection and all. But the heart of the picture are couple Lee Keating and Walter Burrell who run Eureka Live--a homey strobe-lit dive dubbed the "hillbilly Studio 54." The documentary, mostly low-key and plain, makes its most canny and exceptional cut midway through in a flash forward scene. It punctures with humor and pain and delves deeper into Keating and Burrell's love and beliefs.

Overall, I appreciated the slyness Palmieri and Mosher often interject and the coyness of Bond's narration. Unlike many slash and burn docs of late, the film's low-key matter-of-fact presentation visually doesn't pit two sides so harshly against one another--it's already burning within the subtext. In fact, there's a lack of outright judgement (except for deserved scorn for Anita Bryant) that would have been an easy brush stroke. The movie savors the natural world--a quick close-up of a spider is a small and grand gesture--a Pride march interrupted by a storm. It's a reminder how silly and complicated human life is as nature strums on. The Gospel of Eureka ends up being a temporary salve in these times, and a southern-fried tale wrapped up deeply by the end of the journey, above the misty mountains. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

dan braun's top 10 films of 2018

Below is Dan Braun's Top 10 of 2018. Dan has been contributing his list over the past few years and it's always a joy to share. I should be compiling mine soon!--Just a few more movies to catch up with.

1.       Burning

2.       Cold War

3.       First Reformed

4.       Roma

5.       The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

6.       You Were Never Really Here

7.       The Other Side of the Wind

8.       Eighth Grade

9.       First Man

10.    Leave No Trace

Honorable Mention:

24 Frames; Annihilation; At Eternity’s Gate; Bisbee ’17; BlacKkKlansman; A Bread Factory; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Classical Period; The Day After; Dead Souls; The Death of Stalin; The Favourite; Free Solo; Green Book; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Hereditary; I Am Not a Witch; If Beale Street Could Talk; Infinite Football; Isle of Dogs; Lazzaro Felice; Lean on Pete; Let the Sunshine In; Madeline’s Madeline; Mandy; Milla; Minding the Gap; Mission: Impossible—Fallout; Monrovia, Indiana; Nico, 1988; Private Life; A Private War; PROTOTYPE; The Rider; Shirkers; Shoplifters; Summer 1993; Support the Girls; They Shall Not Grow Old; Thoroughbreds; Three Identical Strangers; Vox Lux; Western; Widows; Zama.

Dan's 2017 list

Dan's 2016 list

Monday, February 4, 2019

the amityville murders

The Amityville Horror franchise has to be one of the oddest and least consistent in horror. The films—and there have been a lot of them since Jay Anson’s thoroughly contested “true” story The Amityville Horror hit bookshelves—range from middle of the road entertainment like the 1979 opener, to the schlocky but fun Ryan Reynolds-fronted remake (perhaps more notable for the actor’s anachronistic abs) to last year’s pretty dreadful Amityville: The Awakening, a misbegotten Jennifer Jason Leigh starrer that made just $742 in theaters (nope, not a typo).

The best Amityville movie is actually 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession, which fictionalizes the only verifiably real part of the record: the bizarre murders of the DeFeo family by oldest son Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, Jr., currently serving six concurrent 25 year-to-life sentences in a New York prison.  In director Damiano Damiani’s bizarre gem, the “Montelli” family experiences supernatural evils that exacerbate their already dysfunctional lives, including an abusive dad (Burt Young) and incestuous siblings Sonny (Jack Magner) and Patricia (Diane Franklin). There’s another score by Lalo Schifrin, who got an Oscar nod for the original, and all sorts of creepy, nasty moments; Bloody Disgusting dubbed it “indefensibly inappropriate and oh so much fun.”

So it’s fitting that the most entertaining addition to the saga in many years is writer/director Daniel FarrandsThe Amityville Murders, which takes off from the same true events but sticks somewhat closer to the facts (and the names) while borrowing Possession cast members Young and Franklin and adding a heavy dose of the series’ supernatural hooey. 

The film goes out of its way to establish time and place, leading to no small amount of hilarity with the thick Long Island accents sported by pretty much every cast member. Previous entries have somehow avoided this temptation, but these guys really go for it in a way that’s oddly endearing.  There are also copious amounts of 70s ephemera like a copy of Helter Skelter and a tub of marshmallow Fluff and some great, lesser known vintage music cues. As for the iconic house, while the interiors have been faithfully recreated, the exterior seems to exist solely as a digital model, which works surprisingly well, especially when the VFX artists add in ominous storm clouds and lightning. 

However you feel about the accents, the movie is flawlessly cast. John Robinson has the intense, rugged looks of Butch, and does much of the heavy lifting as his character is tormented by visions and ghosts. Paul Ben-Victor is all too believable as menacing, abusive father Ronnie. Chelsea Ricketts has the goofiest accent, but she still makes a sympathetic and believable sister (the incest element has been perhaps mercifully downplayed here).  The returning franchise stars are good, too: Franklin is strong as the long-suffering mom, and Young commands his few scenes as her mysterious, possibly Mob affiliated dad.  Side note: Lainie Kazan is fine in her scenes as occult-aware grandma “Nona,” but why not cast Possession’s Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest)?  She’s still active and probably would have done great stuff with the part.

The movie is fast-paced and engaging at 97 minutes: with pulpy charm, a genuinely compelling narrative, and some actual scares (including a memorable Halloween sequence). Farrands, best known for penning the notorious Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, directs with a sure hand, style, and obvious knowledge of the Amityville mythology.  He’s created a film that deserves praise as one of the best Amityville horrors.

The Amityville Murders is in theaters and available on demand and digitally Friday, February 8.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

54 in 60

Hadn't ever seen this 1978 60 Minutes story with a very charming, Dan Ratherish Dan Rather look at the disco biz. It's great!

Favorite feature might be the elements coming to life within studio recordings of Peter Brown's "Dance with Me." Also John Ferrara mixing Desiree's "Mi Amore."