Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art 
Friday January 8 through Thursday January 14 at IFC Center: $14
Save for a few grainy photos in art history books and the factory settings on our Macs, few of us have had much contact with land art, a movement started by a group of New York City-based artists in the ’60s. Now, land art (also called environmental art and earthworks)– stone mosaics, tree branch sculptures floating in a misty lake, flattened grass forming massive patterns that can only be really appreciated from the sky– is the stuff of screen savers, but Troublemakers makes the case for a fascinating foundation.

At its outset, land art was defined by rivalries, rebellion, rejection of art world convention, and a refusal to be restrained by the gallery, the market, or even the conventional tools of visual art. Artists like Robert Smithson, who appears in the film, took on projects that required god-like shifts in the ground we stand on, and he succeeded in transforming what we take for granted as more or less permanent as if it were a piece of clay. Impressive stuff, if you can pretend for a second that post-post-post-irony hasn’t happened yet.

Trouble Every Day
Sunday, Jan. 10 at 5 pm; Wednesday, Jan. 13, Friday, Jan. 22, and Saturday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 pm at Spectacle: $5 at the door
As you may know, Spectacle is back from its month-long renovation hiatus. We couldn’t be happier, truly, and because it’s January, that means it’s time for Spectacle to put on their best-ofs from last year. But we’re especially intrigued by this one. Vincent Gallo playing a total creep? You don’t say! It’s not exactly a surprising lineup here, but Spectacle has assured us that Trouble is rife with yummy plot twists– and by yummy, I mean sating the hunger that “bloodlust” wrought.

Vince plays a (creepy) doctor who drags his new wife to Paris, where he proceeds to ditch her a bunch, presumably he’s having his way with some French girl. Even though, wtf, his wife’s got a cute bob too. Anyway, things are not what they seem (as you might expect), something, something cannibalism is all we’ll reveal.

The Mask
Friday, Jan. 15 through Sunday, Jan. 17 at Anthology Film Archives: $10
No, this isn’t the 1994 classic starring Jim Carrey as a ne’er-do-well banker bot with cool pajamas and no girlfriend who stumbles upon a bewitched mask that enables him to transform into a charming/exceedingly annoying rubber-faced caricature and somehow attract the attention of Cameron Diaz who seemingly has zero lines in the film because who needs lines when you have… Sorry, I’ll stop.

But actually, I truly loved that movie as a kid, and aspired to be Stanley Ipkiss by night, which to my surprise won me zero friends on the playground. Little did my child self know that an even better version of The Mask existed, one without the ’90s goofiness, and best of all, one without Jim Carrey.

Although the first 3D film was released in the early-1920s, the medium was forgotten for a time before its resurgence in the 1960s, when 3D was not only broadcast through theatrical releases, but TV too. Ugh so jealous of ’60s kids eating dosed lucky charms in front of the TV watching 3D horror films. But the original The Mask (1961) had a much darker take on the magical tribal mask– instead of functioning somewhat like a cross between PCP and animation, it drove its wearers actually insane, driving them to violent behavior. Also the movie’s soundtrack was supposedly made using technology known as “Electro Magic Sound.” Sounds like a recipe for awesome.  

Son of Saul
Thursday, Jan. 7 through Tuesday, Jan. 26 at Film Forum: $14
I knew this film meant business when I heard actor Geza Rohrig refer to all other Holocaust films as “melodramatic.” Yikes. I think what the Hungarian Rohrig, cast in director Laszlo Nemes’ take on the WWII genre, meant to say was that Son of Saul is the opposite of dramatic. Instead of focusing on a typically literary narrative like redemption, hope, and human resilience, or even tragedy, Nemes approaches the story of the Holocaust from a starkly naturalistic standpoint. The focus here is the grotesqueness of the experience of murder, death, and genocide, up close and personal– no romance, no tampering, and absolutely no shielding from the truth of the matter. Critics are saying that to watch the film is a brutal, but perhaps important experience.

Of course, Son of Saul is not alone in this naturalistic approach (though it’s been a few decades since it has been the artistic viewpoint of filmmaking that reflects on the Nazi’s attempt to bring about the mass extinction of the Jewish people through a horrendous escalation of persecution, violence, and ultimately genocide).

I immediately thought about Demanty Noci (Diamonds of the Night) a Czech new wave film by Jan Nemec (creepy close name, right?) that follows two Jewish teens who have escaped from a train transporting them to a death camp. We’re thrown into the story without any warning or background, and immediately experience the visceral horror and confusion the two boys are feeling. There’s no real beginning nor is there an end– the film lacks narrative tropes– but maybe that says something about the permanence of something like the Holocaust. If Son of Saul is anything like Demanty Noci, prepare your expectations about the genre to be turned upside down.