Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country
On the relatively short list of really great teen alienation films, writer and director Allan Moyle's 1990 drama Pump Up the Volume ranks high alongside previous classics like Rebel Without a Cause and Over the Edge. But unlike these brutally pessimistic films, Pump Up the Volume is as intoxicating as it is cynical, combining its authentic desperation with an uplifting sense of liberation from rebellion in a way that doesn't jeopardize either. Moyle had already staged a growing up jewel, Times Square, when he told the Pump Up the Volume story of a suburban loner (Christian Slater) who serves as the voice of his high school – and, more broadly, a discontented generation – . Every evening he moderates a pirate radio show under a presumed identity. Though Times Square is a movie to be proud of to me, Moyle was so dissatisfied with it after fights with his producer – fights he lost in the last cut – that he vowed never to direct again. Thankfully, producer Sandy Stern put Moyle off his self-imposed retirement, and ten years after Times Square he returned to the director's chair for the movie he was born to do. His impeccable ear for music, his sensitivity to the nuances of his young actors (not just Slater in one of his best appearances, but Samantha Mathis, honored on her film debut) and his deep anger over the cultural and moral flaws of the late 20th century American Culture of the Century turns Pump Up the Volume into a rousing political protest song in the form of a feature film. Times Square and what would become Empire Records form a trilogy of youthful exuberance, frustration, and longing that make Moyle a truly unique voice that deserves to be better known and better known. Thankfully, a pristine new Warner Archive Blu-ray from Pump offers the perfect opportunity to rethink or familiarize yourself with the work of this interesting and underrated filmmaker.
Also new to Blu-ray: the first season of Misha Green & # 39; s dazzling HBO series Lovecraft Country, which confirms that we are still in the middle of the new golden age of horror heralded by Get Out and Hereditary. Produced by Get Outs Jordan Peele, Lovecraft Country, like this film, reinvents classic horror themes and themes, interpreting the genre as a means of examining racism at the heart of American culture. With the adaptation of Matt Ruff's 2016 novel, Showrunner Green created an epic work of terror that is more ambitious and scary than anything I've ever seen on television. The breadth and depth of its references and innuendos is staggering as the series combines all manner of supernatural horrors – from vampires and aliens to ghosts and uncategorizable beasts – with deadly realistic historical traumas in ways that are as truly disturbing as insanely inventive and inventive is weird. Additionally, the show brings out something that has baffled many filmmakers in the past: it finds a cinematic episode for the literary delights of H.P. Lovecraft and delivers the goods as Lovecraft pastiche while at the same time undermining and confronting racism at the center of his work. It's a lot for a show, and that's part of what makes Lovecraft Country a joy. While many television series feel like they are stretching their narratives to fill the time, every hour this one is filled with surprises and set pieces that it seems like the filmmakers cannot possibly sustain the level of imagination and innovation – and then they do for ten fixed hours. Each of these hours is as dense and rewarding as a great feature film, and while the cumulative effects are amazing, some of the episodes are as rewarding as stand-alone films. The flashback episode "Meet Me in Daegu" is one example of this, a harrowing story that incorporates elements from classic musicals, spy and romance films, all of which Green and cowriter Kevin Lau have calibrated in perfect balance. The series is full of joy and the Blu-ray collection has the added value of making-of documentaries that offer fascinating insights into Green and her team's methods.
Over in the streaming world, I'd like to highlight the excellently curated material on the OVID platform, a website with exceptional documentary programs as well as some great third-party and independent features. There are some worthwhile additions to the site this month, notably a couple of early Tsai-Ming Liang films: his 1992 debut Rebels of the Neon God and the idiosyncratic sci-fi comedy The Hole from 1998. The Dead Performance Style and The Minimalist camerawork in both films is deceptively simple, and involves elaborate visual and acoustic patterns that sneak up on the viewer to provide meditations on loneliness that are as hopeful as their portrayal of isolation as a fundamental aspect of the human condition. (You can imagine Tsai-Ming Liang would have loved Pump Up the Volume.) If you're looking for something lighter, OVID is currently broadcasting Stefano Mordini's unabashedly entertaining Italian thriller Invisible Witness (2018), an intricate crime thriller that is annoying carpet under the viewer over and over again up to its unpredictable climax. Invisible Witness, a remake of a Spanish film from two years earlier that I have not yet seen, is based on a routine: a rich and powerful man is knocked down in his hotel room and when he wakes up he finds himself with the murdered body of again his mistress and any evidence to point to him as guilty – and execute him with wit, style and a diabolical ability to manipulate the audience. Mordini plays the viewer like a piano, but he does it with such finesse that you don't mind being swept around. Add to these films a selection of early short works by Cheryl Dunye, Franco Sacchi's fantastic 2007 documentary. This is Nollywood (about Nigeria's growing film industry and its greater economic and cultural impact on that country) and Luc Bondy's last feature film, False Confessions (a contemporary adaptation of Marivaux & # 39; play with Isabelle Huppert), and you have many hours to spare getting lost on this important platform.
Jim Hemphill is a filmmaker and film historian and lives in Los Angeles. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.