American Animals (2018) Written & Directed by Bart Layton
In 2004, a group of college students in Lexington, Kentucky attempted to steal a rare and valuable edition of John James Audobon’s Birds of America. Over the course of a year, they mapped out the entire library where the book was kept, traveled to New York to meet with a fence, went to the Netherlands to set up a potential buyer, and developed an intricate getaway plan. But, did they actually do all of this? And why do some of them remember it in drastically different ways than others? In this clever weaving of re-enactment and documentary confessional, we see the real-life thieves and their actor counterparts lay out the story of a bizarre and seemingly hopeless heist.
How To Talk to Girls at Parties (2018) Written Phillipa Goslett & John Cameron Mitchell Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Enn is a young adult at the height of punk in the United Kingdom. He published a fanzine with his two friends where he illustrates the anarchic adventures of his original character Vyris Boy. Enn and his friends frequently cruise the local venues for punk shows and stumble upon what they believe to be a group of American performers doing some experimental performance art/musical show. In actuality, these are alien collectives living in parent-teacher and child groups. Enn falls for Zan, a rebellious member of the visitors and she departs with him to learn about “the punk.” The alien beings see this as disruptive to the biological patterns they have engaged in for countless millennia and set out to undermine Zan or convince her to return home with them.
Under the Silver Lake (2018) Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell
Sam is aimless. He’s far behind on rent; his relationships involve random flings or women he ogles after from his balcony. His apartment is reeking of an awful smell; he claims its the skunks roaming around the area. One evening he meets Sarah, a new neighbor whom he shares a quiet moment with. The next day everything in her apartment is packed up and gone. Suddenly, Sam is thrust into a conspiracy of codes and symbols; the mundane is given greater meaning. There are cultish rooftop parties. The band with hidden messages in their records. Fallout shelters deep beneath Los Angeles. The pirate. The balloon girl. The homeless king. Sam finds the surface of reality rippling in bizarre ways. But is this a revelation or his delusion consuming him?
Backstabbing for Beginners (2018) Written by Per Fly & Daniel Pyne Directed by Per Fly
As I’ve watched my way through A24’s catalog of films, there is one thing that always seems to signify you’re in for a bad time: The DirectTV logo. The co-productions with DirectTV are almost always a guarantee you’re in for a bad to mediocre time. Backstabbing for Beginners is no exception. The film adapts the memoir of Michael Soussan, a journalist who worked for the United Nations’ Food for Oil program. His fictional avatar in the film, Michael Sullivan holds the same job under Cypriot diplomat Costa Passaris. Sullivan quickly discovers that the system to trade Iraqi oil for food and medicine to benefit the struggling people of that nation is deeply corrupted. Sadaam’s people have allowed a black market for medicine to build up while delivering expired meds to ailing children. It’s as obvious as a sledgehammer to the face that Costa is in on the scam and so Sullivan has to gather enough evidence to take his boss down.
Thunder Road (2018) Written & Directed by Jim Cummings
“It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win” – Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road.”
We meet officer Jim Arnaud at his mother’s funeral. He’s the only one of her three adult children in attendance and is not processing this loss well. He stands with no remarks prepared and sobs his way through the story of how she anonymously donated a thousand dollars, so a mentally challenged girl at his school had a place to play during recess. This story meanders down narrative side streets, sharing that this same girl bit him once, how his mother recorded herself reading all his textbooks in college to help him with his dyslexia, and how she was a non-believer. Then Jim attempts to play Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” one of her favorite tracks. His daughter’s pink and purple boombox won’t work so he’s forced to silently act out the dance he had planned to accompany the song. Throughout this entire affair, he goes from barely under control to manically sob. Jim is a man in an awful place.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Written & Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
Our movie opens on a simple song of the Old West warbled by the ever cheerful Buster Scruggs. Scruggs is an outlaw in a very peculiar vein, notorious and feared while exuding a Will Rogers type persona. This is one of six short stories told over the course of the movie, using the framing device of a book being acted out for the audience. Other stories focus on a bank robber experiencing a series of bad luck deals, traveling entertainers coming to the end of the line, a lone prospector’s discovery of the motherlode, a young woman in a wagon train headed westward for marriage, and a spooky stagecoach ride to Fort Morgan.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse (2018) Written by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, James Wong, Manny Coto, Tim Minear, John J. Gray, Crystal Liu, Adam Penn, Josh Green, and Asha Michelle Wilson Directed by Bradley Buecker, Jennifer Lynch, Loni Peristere, Sheree Folkson, Gwenyth Hordor-Payton, Sarah Paulson, and Jennifer Arnold
The season opens with the destruction of the world. Bombs fall. Humanity is depleted with only the wealthy and their servants surviving in secret bunker sprinkled around the world. The survivors of Outpost 3 while away the days doing nothing and being tortured with adult contemporary music from the 1970s. Then Michael Langdon arrives, an agent of the Collective, the secret society behind the bunkers and possibly the end of the world. Langdon interviews the survivors one by one, searching for some factor unrevealed to the audience. One lowly unassuming servant seems to possess a spark beyond her station, and this intrigues him. However, things go south, and a series of deaths lead to the surprise arrival of some familiar faces of a season gone by. Also, then most of the season is a flashback taking place before all this happens.