The Major Release: Show Dogs

Your Alternative: Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006, d. Bobcat Goldthwait)

There was some mild controversy surrounding Show Dogs during its theatrical run, as the buffoonish talking pup picture’s distributor recut the movie because they were afraid it’d send a psychosexual message that it was OK to fuck animals. Well, comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s ’06 feature Sleeping Dogs Lie actually explores what happens when a milquetoast man (Bryce Johnson) discovers that the girl of his dreams and soon-to-be wife (Melinda Page Johnson) once willingly…experimented with a dog. The whole exercise is an investigation into how we shouldn’t pry into our partners’ pasts (lest we lose our minds regarding what we find), and how easy it is to actually gross out the hipsters who claim “they’ve seen it all before”. Though he’d already melted faces with the depressing joker farce Shakes the Clown, Goldthwait’s mid-aughts return to manning the camera is a subversive cinematic trip down the darkest allies of what it means to be in a “committed relationship”.

Sleeping Dogs Lie is available to stream on Amazon.

The Major Release: First Reformed

Your Alternative: Diary of a Country Priest (1951, d. Robert Bresson)

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is – in more ways than one – the motion picture he’s been working toward throughout the entirety of his writing/directing career (and also happens to be the best American movie released in ’18 thus far). Yet to fully comprehend Schrader’s magnum opus, it’s best to revisit the artists who’ve influenced him his whole life; stretching back to the days before he was a filmmaker, penning such critical texts as Transcendental Style In Cinema. One of the primary inspirations for Schrader has been French auteur Robert Bresson, whose meditations on faith, duty, and the resilience of the human spirit were best encapsulated in Diary of a Country Priest. Following the mundane trials of the titular man of God (Claude Laydu), whose rotting stomach may be an early indicator of existential rot, Diary is Bresson’s own artistic apex. Possibly only for the most die-hard art house buffs, Diary is nevertheless a rewarding trip back to a time when the French were pushing the boundaries of filmic expression, implementing a language that would have a lasting impact on fellow creators for years to come.

Diary of a Country Priest is available on OOP DVD, courtesy of Criterion Collection.

The Major Release: Upgrade

Your Alternative: Videodrome (1983, d. David Cronenberg)

Where Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is a rather diverting delve into the melding of man and technology, David Cronenberg’s Videodrome approaches the topic from a much more cerebral angle (while never sacrificing the Canadian auteur’s visceral “body horror” roots).  Cronenberg’s defining foray into shock cinema follows a conspiracy forged through invisible networks, which is originally unveiled through a “pirate” who taps into a television signal that’s able to warp one’s vision of reality, and then mutate their body. Videodrome imagines human existence as a place where our primary interactions occur through screens, and where a television producer (James Woods) wants to bring unfiltered, brutal reality to his viewers, as he’s tired of recycling the same tacky trash. It’s a fever dream of technology and skin intermingling, as shouted mantras such as “long live the new flesh!” become a declaration of not only intent, but a savage rejection of our own perceptions of existence. The television is now “the retina of the mind’s eye”, whether we want it to be, or not. There’s a reason I have this movie literally tattooed on my forearm: it changed the way I experienced cinema forever.

Videodrome is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

The Major Release: RBG

Your Alternative: Hearts & Minds (1974, d. Peter Davis)

After you’re done consuming the blockbuster (at least by doc box office standards) chronicle of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s monumental life and work (which honestly borders on out-and-out hagiography), perhaps take a look at Peter Davis’ landmark work of non-fiction filmmaking, Hearts & Minds. This superlative piece of investigative cinema interrogates how American racism and gung-ho militarism not only helped create the conflict in Vietnam, but also prolonged it well past the point where the United States could walk away with any semblance of a “victory”. An absolute must see for documentary aficionados, Davis also strives to lend a voice to Vietnamese people, instead of simply painting them as the “enemy”. As far as fair and balanced reporting goes, few have ever bested this exquisite and moving work.

Hearts & Minds is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

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