First thing’s first. You may have heard about this modest little sleeper called Gravity? As it turned out, I was quite fond of it. If you haven’t checked it out, I don’t know what else I can say to convince you to reserve your tickets. However, if you’re searching for something a little smaller-scale or niche than the movie that will, I have no doubt, dominate the conversation as the end of the year and awards season approach, here are this week’s other best movie bets around town. (Also, one of the screenings I wrote about last week — the Spanish-language 1931 version of Drácula — was postponed to this week because of weather. All comments still apply excepting the date, which is not scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 9.)
Monday, October 7 & Tuesday, October 8: Black Sunday (Trylon Microcinema)
From scene one, Barbara Steele in Black Sunday earns her place among the pantheon of horror movie divas. Steele plays Asa Vajda, a witch who is burned at the stake in the 1600s only to return and wreak vengeance on the descendants of her brother, who was responsible for her death centuries prior. Black Sunday is Italian horror maestro Mario Bava’s earliest triumph, and thus kicks off a month series at the Trylon featuring Bava’s trend-setting horror — a retrospective that only begins to scratch the surface of what the director accomplished. Gory and heavy on atmospherics, Black Sunday finds Bava paying respect to the genre tropes that preceded him, but also looking forward to the bloody future.
Tuesday, October 8: Escape from L.A. (Theatres at Mall of America)
Escape from New York is the obvious, aged-in-wood classic among John Carpenter’s non-horror flicks starring Kurt Russell. But if you ask me, there’s actually a lot more anarchic good fun going on in its 1996 sequel. OK, sure. It boasts some of the ropiest CGI effects of any big studio movie possibly ever. OK, sure. It has some of the dumbest action setpieces in Carpenter’s entire career (surfing through the L.A. River with Peter Fonda; that awful, endless basketball match). But it also has Pam Grier and Cliff Robertson and hang-gliding and tons of corny, cheap jokes at Los Angeles’ expense. Oh, and probably one of the most satisfyingly nihilistic endings of any B-movie this side of Kiss Me Deadly.
Wednesday, Oct. 9: True Stories (Walker Art Center)
You may ask yourself: how did I get here? David Byrne, Swoozie Kurtz, and a still ascendant John Goodman star in True Stories, a downright gonzo portrait of small town American normalcy that I guess one could easily pair as the bright side of that other 1986 ode to Main Street maladaptivity, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Byrne directed the film, which he also co-wrote with actor Stephen Tobolowski, who the Walker Art Center is bringing in as part of their “Filmmaker in Conversation” series. He’ll follow up the screening with some Q&A on the art of screenwriting. A little-seen cult gem, True Stories is, in the words of Byrne, “a celebration of specialness.”
Wednesday, October 9: Broadway Idiot (Trylon Microcinema)
This month, Sound Unseen brings Billie Joe Armstrong’s precious little Broadway adventure to the Trylon. Broadway Idiot covers the transformation of Green Day’s American Idiot from Dubya-era blockbuster LP to sell-out hit stage musical. Will the synthesis of pop-punk grunge translate to the glossy Great White Way? Is either side of the artistic equation as pure as they think? (And was that a 400 Bar shirt I caught a glimpse of in the NSFW trailer?)
Thursday, October 10: Island of Lost Souls (Heights Theater)
All month, the Heights Theater is getting into the Halloween spirit. This week, unleash your wild side by taking in a screening of the downright kinky pre-code antics of 1932’s Island of Lost Souls, a riff on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau wherein the titular mad doctor plays God, transforming various animals into humanoid form. As pointed out in the excellent Criterion Collection essay on the film, the subtext of the film isn’t just hubris but also the fears that very different society had over miscegenation.