The Yakuza on Blu-ray
This 1974 thriller from director Sidney Pollack (new on Blu from Warner Archive) is a bit of an oddity, a private eye/revenge movie hybrid that got more press for its record-breaking screenplay sale (it was written by legendary scribes Paul Schrader, Leonard Schrader, and Robert Towne) than much of what was onscreen. But it’s a fascinating piece of work, mostly because of the leading performance of Robert Mitchum, grizzled, glum, and great as a man haunted by the ghosts of his past. Those ghosts take him to Japan, where the cultural codes of honor mesh with the traditional private eye ethos snugly. Pollack wasn’t really the right director for this – he hasn’t have the taste for ultra-violence of Schrader’s later directors Martin Scorsese and Brian DePalma – but he invests the film with a peculiar, dream-like flavor, and is wise enough to mostly stay out of Mitchum’s way. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
Greenleaf was one of the first original scripted dramas to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) when it premiered last year, but it was overshadowed, understandably, by Queen Sugar — the first TV series from filmmaker Ava DuVernay, which also premiered on OWN in 2016. But I actually prefer Greenleaf to Queen Sugar, a visually sumptuous family drama with excellent performances that never really hooked me.
Greenleaf , on the other hand, got me from its first episode, when Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge) comes home to Memphis with her teenage daughter for the first time in twenty years to attend her sister’s funeral. The Greenleafs preside over a mega-church where Grace used to preach, and as Grace returns to the fold, long-buried family secrets begin to surface. It’s a solid family drama, as well as a nuanced examination of the role of religion in family life. The first season is streaming on Netflix as of Friday, March 3; check it out before the second premieres on March 15. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor
Arca’s Voice in His New Music
Arca’s previous music managed to replicate the murky, excruciating, visceral shit that can be evoked with the human voice, through sounds that somehow also emulated, say, armies of metal robots being stretched and pounded through a wormhole. His debut album, Xen, was both emotive and inhuman, and listening to it felt like learning a whole new entity’s vocabulary of pain and longing. His new work, off of an upcoming, fittingly self-titled album, strips away his mutational alter-ego, both in its accompanying imagery (by Jesse Kanda) and in the musician’s new centralizing of his voice — for which he thanks Björk. In two tracks released from the album, “Piel” and “Anoche” (above), Alejandro Ghersi’s vocals do not make it any easier to take in: the experience of alienation you might have come to know from his work is kept very much intact, but by new means.
Sung with a psalm-like reverence in falsetto, his voice sounds so sweet as to begin to rot; it swells and then curdles atop an out-of-tune piano on “Anoche,” a distended synth note on “Piel.” The video for “Anoche” sees Ghersi himself — not the blobby avatar from, say, the “Thievery” video — dancing, leather-corseted and thonged — amidst dead bodies, as he sings in Spanish about loves that may not exist, conjuring a macabre yet beautifully queer portrait of isolation. It’s so good. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor
100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed
I’m reading 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa P. (aka Melissa Panarello), who was called a “punk pornographer” after the book became a controversial international bestseller. It’s a semi-autobiographical, coolly told diary detailing a young girl’s sexual escapades (published when the author was 17 years old). The stories deal with familiar teenage identity issues, longing, insecurities, and sexual politics. Catherine Millet comparisons abound, but I find 100 Strokes more confrontational. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor