Movies Till Dawn: What’s New for 2020?

The Lighthouse” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Isolation, treacherous weather, grain alcohol and dangerous secrets – as well as a possible sea monster or two – collaborate to drive grizzled 19th century lighthouse keepers Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson out of their minds. Slow-boiling, hallucinatory anxiety attack from co-writer/director Robert Eggers, which offers the same atmosphere of paranoia, claustrophobia and Fear of the Other (and Yourself, While You’re At It) that fueled his previous effort, “The Witch“; Dafoe and Pattinson’s go-for-broke performances and the alarming visuals – a cramped aspect ratio, whiffs of Lovecraftian menace and a black-and-white palette that suggests German Expressionism at sea (though Mark Korven‘s creepy-rattly score also shares the load) – add considerably to elevated pulse rates. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Eggers, deleted scenes and a making-of doc.

Wrinkles the Clown” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) Documentary – of sorts – about the titular boogeyman-for-hire and viral sensation, who for a fee would allegedly terrify misbehaving children on behalf of their parents. Running time is divided between the decidedly creepy old man (in a trailer park, no less) behind the clown mask and those that have encountered/interacted with him before reaching an uncomfortable midpoint involving Wrinkles’ involvement in an apparent abduction plot. The twist in the tale that follows will either aggravate or amuse viewers, but the end result, by Michael Beach Nichols (director of the equally alarming “Welcome to Leith“), is still audacious, well-made and undeniably unsettling. Magnolia’s DVD includes deleted scenes

The Third Wife” (2018, Film Movement) Desire and repression in 19th century Vietnam, where 14-year-old Nguyen Phuong Tra My is married off to an older silk plantation owner with two other wives; there, she attempts to navigate the repressive atmosphere of her arranged marriage, her place within the three wives, and her own dawning emotions. Gorgeously photographed debut feature from writer-director Ash Mayfair, who shows a keen understanding of how to use silence to convey the turbulent interior landscapes of characters that are forbidden to speak their minds; occasionally, the quiet feels almost too oppressive for us to feel anything but pity and dismay for My and her sister wives, but Mayfair – who based the film on her own great-grandmother’s experiences – benefits from Chananun Chotrungroj’s photography, which imbues an otherworldly sheen to the location, and by the performances, especially My, who was only 12 at the time of filming, and handles some difficult adult situations with skill.

Bliss” (2019, Dark Sky Films) 16mm freakout film with Dora Madison (Burge) as an angry Los Angeles painter with a trifecta of problems – agent dumps her, gallery owner wants a new painting, and landlord wants the rent – which she solves by scoring the titular drug. The fix sends Madison on a hallucinatory bender from which she emerges with not only a finished work, but also a craving for blood. Writer-director Joe Begos doubles down on the give-your-life-for-your-art and LA as psychedelic hellhole tropes by unleashing a virtual torrent of gore, ugly behavior and assaultive visuals; Madison proves up for the physical/emotional challenges of Begos’ script, and viewers who enjoy movie-watching as a full-contact sport (see “Mandy,” “Hereditary“) with undoubtedly appreciate the forearm smash delivered by “Bliss” to their senses. Your mileage may vary; Dark Sky’s Blu-ray includes Begos on two commentaries and a deleted scene.

Cassandro, the Exotico!” (2019, Film Movement) Latest documentary from French director Marie Losier (“The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye”) follows Cassandro, the first openly gay wrestler in Mexico’s aggressively heterosexual world of lucha libre, as he faces, after more than two decades of bodily punishment, leaving the job that has defined him as both a beloved performer and (more recently) queer icon. Losier captures Cassandro’s flamboyant appearance and jaw-dropping acrobatics in 16mm photography, which underscore the vibrant colors of the lucha scene, the incredible physical requirements of his job and his own personal level of grit, while candid Skype conversations, which touch on his personal (a history of drug and sexual abuse) and career struggles, buffet the palpable affection she holds him and displays in charmingly low-fi visual compositions.

Low Tide” (2019, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) A stolen bag of gold coins is all that’s needed to drive a wedge between a quartet of 1980s-era Jersey Shore teens already poised to transition from petty robberies to crimes with life-and-death stakes. Underappreciated neo-noir from writer/director Kevin McMullin (making his feature debut), who eschews the easy fix of Reagan-era nostalgia in favor of a unvarnished look at the boredom and class anxiety that pushes kids like his quartet into increasingly serious crimes; he’s aided immeasurably by his cast, which includes standouts Jaeden Martell (“It”) and Alex Neustaedter as opposing extremes in the gang. A making-of doc is featured on Lionsgate’s DVD.

The Fare” (2018, Epic Pictures Releasing) On a night when the radio broadcasts news about aliens and time travel, cabbie Gino Anthony Pesi picks up Brinna Kelly on a lonely desert road, both unaware that they will repeat the transaction, over and over, until they can find a way to escape the temporal loop. Without major stars or a budget to support them, an ambitious indie like “The Fare” lives and dies on convincing the audience to stick with its repeating plot; thankfully, D.C. Hamilton’s direction and editing has noir style to spare and Pesi (who co-produced the film) and Kelly (writer and co-producer), have considerable chemistry, which makes the occasional rough turn in the plot easy to weather. Epic’s all-region Blu-ray includes commentary by Hamilton and Kelly, extended scenes, a making-of doc and more.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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