NOT OPTIONAL takes a quick weekly look at some essential releases, some recent, some not.
We’ve already spilled a ton of pixel-ink on Shane Carruth’s long-time-coming follow-up to 2004’s twisty time-travel film Primer, but Upstream Color is worth the time and brain cells. It’s gorgeous, haunting, and completely unsatisfying in a way that makes it somehow even more satisfying. Even more than Primer—itself not very optional—Upstream Color announces director/producer/writer/star Carruth as a truly singular filmmaking voice. No one is making movies like this one, and it’s a remarkable accomplishment in a dozen different ways—including distribution: Upstream Color is still in some theaters, but it’s also now available on DVD/Blu-ray and on-demand. There are no extras to speak of, but there are plenty of Carruth interviews around the web to immerse yourself in after watching (and probably re-watching) the movie, trying to figure out what’s up with the worm and the pig farmer and the swimming pool. [Josh Modell]
Super Mario Facts
I’ve never been enamored of the context-free, 140-characters-or-less nonsense of @horse_ebooks and its ilk. Even when the most popular of those feeds happens upon something accidentally transcendent, the whole notion feels a bit one-joke. Accidentally transcendent, free-of-context information on the Super Mario Bros. franchise, though? That’s worth a follow. It’s hard to say why Super Mario Facts works for me when @horse_ebooks doesn’t—I guess transmitting the Super Mario Wiki one tweet at a time provides a hook that keeps @SuperMarioFact away from the cult of “LOL random” that’s popped up around the Internet’s No. 1 spambot star. The oft-absurd universe of Mario, Luigi, and friends only gets more ridiculous when described in deadpan, grammatically questionable blurbs like “He is born with hair and is immediately able to talk after being born and even has pants.” With Super Mario Wiki at 13,361 articles and counting, Super Mario Facts draws from a massive bank of very serious information about digitized plumbers. Then again, with only 65 episode synopses of The Super Mario Super Show to pillage, the feed’s supply of surprising moments in international diplomacy (“Later, Luigi is telling Gorbachev that, like a pizza, one can divide the world into many, many pieces”) might warp-whistle away someday soon. [Erik Adams]
Altar Of Plagues, Teethed Glory And Injury
Every once in a while, fixing something that isn’t broken really pays off. Case in point: Teethed Glory And Injury, the bracingly bleak new record from Irish black metal outfit Altar Of Plagues. The band’s previous album, 2011’s Mammal, spread 50 minutes of apocalyptic sorrow over just four tracks. That slow-and-steady approach earned the band plenty of accolades, so it’s surprising to hear the group part ways with it almost entirely on this new album, which is so different from its predecessor it could have been named Reptile. Beginning with the menacing, insect-like buzz of “Mills,” Glory condenses Mammal’s thick, abandoned-Earth atmosphere into nine claustrophobic ragers. Gone are the sustained, monolithic soundscapes; they’ve been replaced by four-minute flurries of anguish. (Any time a song threatens to settle into a droney lull, guitarist James Kelly breaks the mood with a squall of nervous noise.) And while Glory is an immaculately mixed album—a triumph of studio engineering—Kelly and his bandmates also manage to bottle some of the intensity of their concerts, especially Johnny King’s increasingly propulsive work behind the kit. Just wait until they reverse that energy flow and start playing these glorious maelstroms live. [A.A. Dowd]
Comedian Gavin Speiller can only come up with single pages of good movie ideas, like so many other frustrated screenwriters and movies that got made anyway. Fortunately, the single pages he posts under the Twitter feed Unfinished Scripts have everything you need to be entertained, provided you’re not looking for character development, proper denouements, or anything else beyond a ridiculous plot twist that negates the need to go any further. Nearly all of Speiller’s scripts start off with some recognizable movie trope—a kindhearted white lady trying to rescue a black teenager, two hitmen staking out a target, a baseball executive with some radical new ideas, a quirky girl looking desperately for love. Then they spin off on some tangent that completely blows up their premise, making for a useless framework for an actual film (not that some haven’t tried), but a hilariously absurdist piece of Hollywood satire. [Sean O’Neal]