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The Forest (2016): The Girl Was Never There, It’s Always the Same

The Forest (Jason Zada, 2016)

The top half of Natalie Dormer's face disintegrates into a number of hangman's nooses on the film's poster.

No matter the quality of the movie, this poster is a minor work of genius. photo credit:

The first thing you should know about The Forest is that Aokigahara Forest is absolutely a real place, the mythology surrounding it as depicted in the movie is spot-on, and it has been used as the basis of a number of Asian films (most notably for western viewers, Forest of Death, Danny Pang’s 2007 solo jaunt–though Pang relocated the forest to Thailand for the sake of his story). That may help this movie’s effectiveness for you. And to be fair to The Forest, it is a competently-made thriller with a couple of really good jump shots. However, there are a few things about the movie that left me, no pun intended, hanging.

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The Revenant (2015): And On the Third Day He Rose Again, In Accordance with the Scriptures

Leonardo DiCaprio stares determinedly out of the movie's poster.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

For a while there, it seemed like Leonardo DiCaprio had lapsed back in time to the days when studios kept actors at their beck and call; if it wasn’t a Martin Scorsese picture, DiCaprio was nowhere to be found. He also seems to have overcome whatever malaise affected him after Titanic was such a smash, and has gotten back to the Leo we saw in films such as The Basketball Diaries and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Then, on the other hand, there’s Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu blasted out of the gate with Love’s a Bitch fifteen years ago, and a fine thing it was. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, exactly, but the closest I can come to it is that he became a director of concept; his films were, while still somewhat enjoyable (with one notable exception that will be mentioned in passing later), more about The Grand Scheme of Things than they were about character. So here we are with The Revenant, and for those who don’t like to read below the fold, I’ll tell you that this is Iñárritu’s best movie in fifteen years, and for much the same reasons that made Love’s a Bitch such a good watch. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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The Best I Heard 2014: The Ten Best Albums (plus ten Honorable Mentions)

You know how this goes. The book and movie lists it’s just what I saw/what I read during the year, with no thought of when it was actually released. But for music, it’s limited to what was released in 2014. So it’s reasonably up to date! Who’d’a thunk? In any case, without further ado…

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The Best and Worst I Read in 2014

Well, I usually wait until the new year to do the lists, but the chances I’m going to finish another book in the next week are vanishingly small, I’m not going to be grabbing any new music, and I’ve been focusing on the bottom part of my Netflix queue, so I don’t see these lists changing between now and January 1. And so, without further ado…

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The rest is silence.

This post has been a long time coming. I keep putting it off, and the more I do, the more obvious its necessity.

I have been a media critic, in some form or other, for just over thirty years; I started writing music reviews for my high school paper in autumn 1984. Starting sometime in the mid-nineties, I began to make an effort to review everything I read, watched, and heard. And for a time–a pretty darned long time, considering how much media I consume–I managed it. I dropped reviewing all of the music that entered my collection sometime in the early 2000s and focused on books and film, and things kept going well for a while.

The first major drop in frequency here, back in early April, was my second inpatient trip to the hospital, for two unrelated issues, in three years. They were soemthing of a wake-up call. (Perhaps not enough of one to really make me kill myself, but enough to get me started trying to take better care of my body.) In the ensuing seven months, I have rearranged a number of my priorities, and things that were previously central in my life have been forced to fall by the wayside because of time constraints. My list of unreviewed books and movies, already over a hundred pages long, blossomed. I now have over eight hundred blank headers in the movie section of that document, some of them going back two and a half years.

In short: I’m hanging it up. (Semi-) retiring. After thirty years, I think there’s a gold watch or something.

I have two more (I believe) solicited reviews to finish and publish. I will, of course, publish all the finished reviews that are waiting for publication, and I am planning on finishing up a few I’m in the middle of. And I will throw out a review here and there as time goes on, and the best-of-the-year lists will keep on coming. And I will always be working on think pieces that won’t have anywhere to live other than here, because no one else cares, really. But the idea of getting through all eight hundred plus of those blank movie reviews, plus the uncounted book headers? Simply clearing those out, I think, is going to be a profoundly liberating experience. I’m going to go back to being a fan.

Not that I ever wasn’t. And being a media critic taught me more than actually being in the book business about the ways books are published and what to look for. It put me into contact with hundreds of amazing people I would have never met otherwise. It taught me how to hone the art of seeking out the obscure and overlooked, and that one must sometimes wade through acres of swine, but that those few pearls you uncover are oh so worth it. And that turned me into even more of a fan than I already was, because looking at things with a critical eye, despite the popular conception, makes you appreciate the good stuff even more.

But with the shedding of this role comes the shedding of the pressure to try and find something to say about every single movie I watch. I can think of a dozen movies I’ve watched in the past two weeks for which I could probably write the same review and change the names. They’re not bad movies, but there’s nothing to distinguish them from the rest of the pack. And, finally, I’m saying: why bother?

But I’ll still be out here reading everything I can get my hands on, watching awful movies (along with a few really good ones), and listening to acres of music. Some of it may even be worth commenting on. And this I guarantee: I will never turn down popcorn for breakfast.

Antiviral (2012): Silence Is Golden

Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg, 2012)

Hannah Geist's bloodied lips adorn the movie poster.

Because your kiss is on my list of the best things in life.
photo credit:

The whole time I was watching Antiviral, the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg—if the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Brandon is the son of revered Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg—I was thoroughly enchanted with it. I kept having to remind myself that, yes, the movie does have some shortcomings, and they kept it from rating higher than it did. But the movie’s immense style made me want to gloss those shortcomings over. This is definitely a case of form over function, and in that, early Brandon is on the same track as early David was—and by “early” with David Cronenberg I’m talking about his earliest features, 1969’s Stereo and 1970’s Crimes of the Future, rather than the “early” stuff everyone’s seen (Shivers, Rabid, and The Brood, by the last of which Cronenberg had already, as far as I’m concerned, reached the heights of body-horror greatness he would plumb until 1999’s eXistenZ). When it comes right down to it, you’re going to want to say you knew him when.

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La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children) (1995): Second Star to the Right and Straight on Till Morning

[I just realized it’s 9PM and I haven’t started the capsule reviews for this month. Well, that’s not happening today. Later this week…]

La Cité des Enfants Perdus (City of Lost Children) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1995)

[originally posted 17Jan2003]

The Doctor, with one of his insane contraptions on his head, adorns the movie poster.

“Well I kept losing my ear trumpet.”
photo credit:

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is an astounding talent, one of France’s true living treasures. Along with his longtime collaborator Marc Caro, he’s created two of the finest films of the nineties, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. The former is a comedic nightmare, the latter a nightmarish comedy. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. You’re more likely to be laughing out loud at Delicatessen most of the time.

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