Friday, May 20, 2022

THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK



These last few years I’ve been fairly aware of all the semi-recent slow-burn psychological horror movies like A Dark Song, The Transfiguration, Saint Maude, Entrance, The Witch, etc, so I’m surprised this underrated 2016 gem never came up until now (courtesy of the criterion channel). The Alchemist Cookbook would actually make for a nice double feature with A Dark Song as both intentionally slowly-paced films have a lot of similar imagery and take a more realistic approach to the idea of black magic and/or casting spells…

The Alchemist Cookbook /
A Dark Song 

The motivation behind using spells & magic is quite different between the two films (A Dark Song is about grief & letting go while The Alchemist Cookbook is more about curiosity & experimentation mixed with mental illness), but  the basic similarities are still there.


In addition to the coincidental visual & thematic similarities to A Dark Song, The Alchemist Cookbook has subconscious ties to everything from early Richard Linklater…

as much as I thought I hated it [SLACKER] it was one of my earliest influences. And now watching it as someone much more educated in my film experience, I understand what he was doing - Joel Potrykus, gavinschmitt.com

Slacker /
The Alchemist Cookbook 


To unexpected sources like The French New Wave and more traditional horror films like The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Some people hate the ending of ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK. I get it. Obviously, it's ripped from 400 Blows (and Body Snatchers remake). I stick by it - Joel Potrykus, twitter

The 400 Blows /
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers /
The Alchemist Cookbook 


I also found some other coincidental visual similarities between The Alchemist Cookbook and other random horror films and psychological thrillers from over the years…

Twin Peaks /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

The Fly /
The Alchemist Cookbook 

Ganja and Hess /
The Alchemist Cookbook 


I know I’m going a bit overboard with the comparisons but the more I read about Potrykus the more I appreciate his wide variety of influences. 

Take these audio/video comparisons below for example:

It doesn’t take much to realize I lift the openings to all my films from Clarke’s Made in Britain and Haneke’s Funny Games. The opening to those films make me want to punch someone in happiness. I want anarchy in character motivations and story structure - Joel Potrykus, rapportoconfidenziale




Or this direct nod to Jim Jarmusch in his feature debut Ape...


Or what I believe to be a reference to Cassavetes’ The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie (right down to the Nightclub setting and both of these scenes taking place at the end of their respective movies) 


His 2018 film Relaxer is a one long loose homage to Bunuel with an opening scene right out of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange...


I’m sure I’m reaching on this one but one specific moment from the movie reminded of Murnau…
Sunrise /
The Alchemist Cookbook


Joel Potrykus is open about the things he borrows from yet none of his films could be called clones of Alan Clarke or Michael Haneke. It’s rare to be able to pull from so many sources yet not come off like a copycat. In my opinion it is possible to wear certain specific influences on your sleeve all while still having your own unique voice/approach and Potrykus is a great recent example of this. 

Influences and visual nods aside, this is still very much it’s own movie…


In The Alchemist Cookbook we follow “Sean” - a recluse with deteriorating mental health living off the grid in a tiny house/caravan experimenting with various potions Igor unknown reasons. Sean is visited by his friend Cortez who brings him supplies, groceries & meds from time to time (it isn’t fully laid out but Potrykus gives little nuggets of information about Sean & Cortez’s relationship prior to the events of the film).

Although Sean is unsuccessful with his spells & experimentations (…at first), he is still haunted by unknown sounds at night. Much like other slow burn horror films in the vein of Entrance (2012), the typical horror elements of the story don’t hit until the final act. Prior to the finale, this is a film about mental illness & isolation with little hints & implications to horror and psychological unease.
Because The Alchemist Cookbook is a film about both mental illness and the supernatural, this is something that can be over-analyzed to death (and it has been). My fascination with this movie is the deliberate transgressive approach (from being a horror movie that holds back on the cheap jumps & scares) to the conscious casting choices of only Black males (this is the kind of independent movie that wouldn’t typically include Black men in the lead).

Even though I’m a Black male viewer and the cast of this movie consists of only two Black male characters - I kept race out of my analysis until reading a quote from Potrykus himself saying he wanted to “take the white people out of the movie”. Once I read that I reassessed everything and I now think The Alchemist Cookbook belongs in an unofficial updated modern Black film canon (even with a White director). A few strides have been made when it comes to the portrayal of Black people and mental health on the big screen (Black men specifically in the case of The Alchemist Cookbook), but it is still kind of a rarity to find what I consider a good film that focuses on these issues. This is certainly of them.

Between the subconscious racial elements to the slow pacing, this isn’t a film for everyone (and I’m pretty sure it was never intended to be for everyone) but it is quite rewarding if you have the patience to stay the course (and to be fair the movie is only 80 minutes).

Thursday, May 12, 2022

ARTIST TO ARTIST TALK #4

 


I recently joined my good friend Mtume Gant on his Patreon podcast to chat about the current state of modern Black film, twitter, film festivals and so much more. 

This is essentially an extension of the conversations we've have over the last two decades.

Click here or the image above to listen to Part One and make sure to subscribe to his Patreon (click here to join) to listen to the second part of the talk.

Enjoy...

CRITERION NOW - EPISODE 143

 


I recently joined the gang over at The Criterioncast podcast to discuss announcements for June and other various news.

Click here or the image above to go to the episode.

Enjoy...

Sunday, April 10, 2022

MOVIES FROM HELL: THE FILMS OF JOHN PAIZS


My ongoing fascination with John Paizs has now extended to other platforms. I made another appearance on the Movies From Hell podcast to talk about Paizs' career as a living Canadian cult legend. I also had my friend and Canadian film critic/historian David Davidson of The Toronto Film blog join us for the discussion as he was the person who put me on to Paizs' work originally.

Click here or the image above to go to the episode...


And when you're done listening to this episode click here to head on over to Dave's blog to check out some great early footage/coverage of Paizs

Friday, April 1, 2022

THE SCHOOL OF CHANTAL AKERMAN: PART 12

Here is the latest entry in my ongoing look at the (intentional & unintentional) visual similarities between the work of Chantal Akerman and many filmmakers that came after her.

Enjoy...


We carry trauma intergenerationally via DNA. It’s literally in our genes. So the combination of a Holocaust personal history and a fiercely feminist consciousness makes my connection to Chantal Akerman’s work very clear - Nina Menkes, Film Comment

Jeanne Dielman.../
Queen Of Diamonds



We watched some references — one big-time reference for this was Chantal Akerman - Thimios Bakatakis, Variety

Jeanne Dielman.../
Master Of None

Jeanne Dielman.../
Master Of None

Jeanne Dielman.../
Master Of None

Jeanne Dielman.../
Master Of None



Joanna Hogg co-curated an extensive traveling retrospective on Chantal Akerman (which she eventually turned in to a small book) It’s safe to assume Hogg was influenced by Akerman’s work...

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
The Souvenir


While he is often tight-lipped about his (possible) influences and things he draws inspiration from -Rick Alverson's early work shares a lot of the same ambience & tone as Akerman...

Jeanne Dielman.../
The Builder

Jeanne Dielman.../
The Builder

Jeanne Dielman.../
The Builder

Jeanne Dielman.../
The Builder

Jeanne Dielman.../The Builder



Along with the recent work of Dan Sallitt...

Jeanne Dielman.../The Unspeakable Act

Jeanne Dielman.../The Unspeakable Act

Jeanne Dielman.../The Unspeakable Act

Toute Une Nuit/
Fourteen

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
Fourteen

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
Fourteen

Les Rendezvous D'Anna/
Fourteen



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

THE PINK SMOKE PODCAST: EPISODE 97 - THE KILLING FLOOR

 


I joined my good friends John & Chris over at The Pink Smoke to talk about Bill Duke's complicated feature film debut; The Killing Floor.

Click here or the image above to go to the episode.

Enjoy...

Thursday, March 10, 2022

TWIN PEAKS COMMUNITY SHOWCASE

 


I was asked to jump on Take The Ring’s Twin Peaks community chat to talk about two of my favorite things; David Lynch & movie comparisons.

Click here or the image above to go to the episode.

Enjoy.

Friday, March 4, 2022

FIRE



If Claire Denis’ latest film is supposed to be an on-the-spot improvised pandemic-era exercise/experiment - then I’m willing to go easy on it. But if it is meant to be taken like a serious well-crafted film in the vein of her stronger efforts like Beau Travail, No Fear No Die or 35 Rums - then I am a little disappointed. Disappointed as if I’m watching an A+ student intentionally get a C- on a test because they find it amusing. I don’t think Denis has the ability to make a “terrible” movie, and no matter how head-scratchingly vague/empty the movie felt to me at times, it does have me thinking about it non-stop well after watching it. Perhaps that is a win on some level...

For those of you familiar with Denis’ entire filmography, Fire feels like an even more playful & loose iteration of something like L’Intrus. Not in terms of plot but in terms of execution. From the beginning we’re introduced to characters and information in a very “in the know”/speakeasy kind of way. Claire Denis is the queen of hints & implications and with Fire we see Denis pushing that form storytelling to the limit.

As a fan of movie references & homages I should love this. For those that don’t know, the tone of this film is very much in the school of Jacques Rivetter right down to Denis casting Rivette regular; Bulle Olgier. Fire’s most Rivette quality is the way it weaves in & out of being silly/playful and incredibly intense (the film's playfulness also owes a bit to the French new wave while it's intense finale feels like an argument from a Cassavetes film).
A movie from my favorite filmmaker (Denis) drenched in vague homages & movie references from older filmmakers I love (Cassavetes, Rivette, etc) should be right up my alley but unfortunately it just  didn’t click.

Outside of the Rivette homage there is a basic premise/plot that involves a couple’s relationship being put to the test when various outside forces try to come between them. But ultimately this film almost felt like an inside reference that I wasn’t privy to (which is incredibly frustrating considering my love for Claire Denis).
Anyone who knows me is aware I’m Claire Denis’ biggest fan but I’m no authority on her or her work (even if I come off that way at times). I encourage everyone to watch this (Fire is being put out by IFC films so it should be somewhat easy to see). Perhaps there’s something I just didn’t get or understand. I plan on watching this many times over in the future so maybe things will change.

And Fire isn’t without some incredibly positive qualities…

Tindersticks make yet another amazing musical contribution to the cinematic world of Claire Denis (the score is more in line with other “moody” scores like Bastards or L’Intrus).
The cast of Fire feels like a family affair with appearances from almost every era of Claire Denis regular. Watching Alice Houri, Vincent Lindon, Juliette Binoche, Gregoire Colin, Mati Diop and a (mute) Lola Cretan all share the screen feels like watching a fun-yet hastily put together experimental all-star game.

Again - I encourage as many people as possible to see Fire. I know I’m not raving about this like I have other Claire Denis films but I’m really curious to know if there are pieces I didn’t get in order to fully appreciate it.

Please watch and report back. I'm incredibly open to chat about this with any and everyone…

THE SCHOOL OF MAYA DEREN: PART 16

 Part 16 of my ongoing series where we look at the visual similarities (some intentional, some coincidental) between the films of Maya Deren and the work that followed.

Enjoy...


Meshes Of The Afternoon / On The Silver Globe

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
On The Silver Globe


Meshes Of The Afternoon / On The Silver Globe


Meshes Of The Afternoon /
2001: A Space Odyssey

Meshes Of The Afternoon / 2001: A Space Odyssey

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
2001: A Space Odyssey

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
2001: A Space Odyssey


Meshes Of The Afternoon / Carnival Of Souls

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Carnival Of Souls

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Carnival Of Souls

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Carnival Of Souls

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Carnival Of Souls

Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Carnival Of Souls


At Land /
Poison/
Sparky To The Pier and Back


Meshes Of The Afternoon /
Paprika/
Inception

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