VVIBES is a Vague Visages column featuring regular contributors. The October 4, 2019 edition includes various streaming recommendations.
Bill Bria (@billbria)
The Arthouse Space Film has made a major comeback in 2019, with various A-list actors floating around in zero-G while mulling over their emotional problems. The issues that the starbound crew of convicts in Claire Denis’ High Life (available to stream on Amazon Prime) are largely concerned with are sexual — this is one of the most unabashedly kinky sci-fi films ever made, subverting the typical genre wanderings into merely aesthetic kink. Yet for all the self-pleasure and pools of bodily fluids, High Life is ultimately a melancholy, existential fable about the slow death of the human race. As such, it’s not the wacky sex romp that many things you may have heard about it on social media would indicate, but rather a sad and thoughtful film. Robert Pattinson adds another character to his impressive pantheon of men rejected by society who still have a luminous soul beneath, and Juliette Binoche plays an eerily seductive mad scientist, showing new facets of her already legendary range. High Life isn’t an easy watch, but it’s one of the most daring films of the year, as well as one of the most beautiful. As a bonus: Pattinson even sings the end credit song!
Anya Stanley (@bookishplinko)
My streaming suggestion for this weekend is Twins of Evil, currently streaming on Shudder. It’s one of the more bang-for-your-buck Hammer Horror films as far as production value goes. Former Playboy playmates Mary and Madeline Collinson put the “erotic” in erotic horror as twins who stay with their uncle (Peter Cushing at his Witchfinder General-iest) near the mysterious Karnstein Castle after the death of their parents. It’s the last entry of the sapphic “Karnstein Trilogy,” but it can be viewed as a standalone film.
Jim Ross (@JimGR)
Trainspotting is most commonly noted for launching the careers of Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle, primarily. Building on their first collaboration (Shallow Grave), similar elements from Boyle’s debut combine with the razor-sharp insight of Irvine Welsh’s source material to deliver a hallucinatory masterpiece touching upon addiction, the decay of society and materialism. Although it is the Lancastrian Boyle channeling Welsh’s prose, Trainspotting offers a distinctly Scottish overlap with some of the themes in fellow literary adaptation Fight Club, David Fincher’s characteristically American rejection of consumerism. However, viewing Trainspotting in 2019 is to see a vastly different Scottish nation to that of now, or even depicted in the 2016 sequel T2: Trainspotting. Amongst many Scots, the “Choose life” monologue is not the iconic one, but Renton’s 30-second “It’s shite being Scottish!” rant. Renton’s cynical retort to pride in the landscape distills a wider dissatisfaction with Scotland during this period. The film’s characters and voice let out a weary “Is this the best Scotland can do?” — while simultaneously highlighting the self-deprecating humour Scots are famous for. Trainspotting offers a pre-devolution, pre-independence referendum view of a nation that has only begun to reassert itself in the years since.
Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25)
Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) seems quaint by modern day standards of horror and special effects, but only because it was the origination of modern horror classics. Everything from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) to Looking Glass Studio’s System Shock 2 (1999) and this summer’s Stranger Things Season 3 owe a portion of their success to this film. Collider magazine called it THE NIGHTMARE THAT THREATENS OUR WORLD! And what a nightmare! Dr. Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and old flame Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) return home to Santa Mira and get caught up in an alien invasion, which they have no hope in winning. Sigel takes this small mountain town and turns it into a nourishing visual feast that any viewer will enjoy. The best example is when aliens chase Miles and Becky up the hillside. The dark narrow canyons expertly complement the alien menace that is trying to absorb them and destroy their humanity. Production designer and Hitchcock alumni, Ted Haworth, provides simplistic creature designs that cut straight to the fear of the unknown. Writer Daniel Mainwaring’s dialogue is snappy and calculated. He wastes no time in getting down to brass tacks, creating believable characters with a sense of urgency and believability. The first person narrative voice of Dr. Bennell is more reminiscent of what would now be considered essay documentary rather than the omniscient narrator that was found in most science fiction of the time. Though some perceive Invasion of the Body Snatchers as ripe with communist infiltration and subversion, on a deeper level, it relays a message about resisting the urge to succumb to bland conformity and creative suicide. The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains the best. Like the pod recreations in the film, the reboots lack the original’s heart and soul. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is available at the Criterion Channel.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough)
At the Criterion Channel, check out Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 classic To Be or Not to Be, featuring the final performance by screen icon Carole Lombard. Set in 1939 before Germany’s invasion of Poland, the black comedy centers on a Warsaw theatre group who parodies Adolf Hitler. In a sub-plot, a Polish soldier played by Robert Stack (yes, from Unsolved Mysteries!), romances the married Maria Tura (Lombard) – which grounds the narrative’s situational comedy. Lombard exudes grace and composure — all the star power that made her such a huge Hollywood figure. Sadly, she passed away, at age 33, one month before To Be or Not to Be premiered. I’m hoping to watch more Lombard films this fall, and would love to read more essays about her career. She was a special actress. (Note: Lombard was born on October 6 — celebrate her legacy on Sunday with To Be or Not to Be.)