2016 is finally fading in the rearview mirror, but like many of you, I can’t help but dwell a bit longer on that dumpster fire of a year. It was an anxious 12 months all around, and in my state of near-constant hand-wringing and muffled weeping, I didn’t get much of a chance to dredge the depths of weird movies that flew under my radar. So my New Year’s resolution was to do just that — find some flicks I managed to completely miss and choke them down alongside a mix of day-old champagne and week-old eggnog.
First up is “The Alchemist Cookbook” by director Joel Potrykus, which follows a young man named Sean (Ty Hickson) as he sets about summoning the demon Belial, who he thinks will load him with gold, from an isolated trailer in the woods of Michigan. Accompanying Sean is his cat Kaspar and an assortment of haphazardly placed bunsen burners, shopping bags stuffed with Doritos and Faygo, and the titular text that guides his dollar-store ventures into the dark arts.
Sean spends most of his descent into madness either in the trailer sawing the copper tops off of Duracells and sticking wires into test tubes or mucking about in the woods, and the movie is for the most part a one-man show. The only interaction he has besides talking with the cat is with Cortez (Amari Cheatom), a relative (maybe cousin?) who brings him groceries every few days.
Between “The Alchemist Cookbook” and his previous film, 2014’s “Buzzard,” Potrykus is perfecting the heartfelt depiction of Midwestern losers in downward spirals. In most other hands, watching Sean shuffle and mutter would be a depressing affair, but the root of his avarice is so goofy — he wants to sit in a big house in the woods chilling in a white robe while eating Dorito sandwiches with Kaspar — and his methods so seemingly inept that he holds a constant fascination and a confusing endearment.
Next in line is “Too Late,” a hard-boiled detective story from director Dennis Hauck cut up into a series of five long scenes set years and months apart and presented out of chronological order, just one of many send-ups to Tarantino and film noir of old. Definitive “that guy” actor John Hawkes plays surly PI Mel Sampson, who is dead-set on avenging the murder of a woman he met at a bar one night years ago.
If “The Alchemist Cookbook” defies categorization through its pointed bizarreness, “Too Late” arrives on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, layering on the detective story tropes one after another in a complete genre tribute of a movie. The end result is less stale than it sounds thanks to the care taken in the execution. Mel scowls behind the wheel of convertibles, threatens a tough guy with a beating and charms a stripper with a heart of gold, and the nonlinear plotting of the story seeds clues from one scene to the other that kept cropping up on me after the credits rolled. The movie feels familiar the whole way through, but it’s done so well, I couldn’t help but be taken in.
There are many more films of 2016 to dig through, but it’s not often I get to make good on a year’s worth of empty promises in a combined runtime of three hours. I’d say the new year is looking mighty fine at the onset.
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