Letterboxd Film Diary, March 2019
Published in Blog Archive, Letterboxd. Tags: Film.
Film diary and review entries made on the movie social media website Letterboxd.
3/2/2019 Freddy Got Fingered, 2001 (Rating: 2.5/5)
3/2/2019 Zombie Lake, 1981 (Rating: 0.5/5)
Zombie Lake is about as haphazard an approach to portraying zombies on screen as I’ve ever seen, with the core of the movie focused on the zombies’ victims… which just happen to be skinny dipping women, or nude women frolicking in water, or nearly nude women bathing outdoors. See a trend here? And when the zombies do attack, the effort put into the details are pathetic. Early on there’s a scene where a zombie is portrayed as gnawing on a woman’s neck, only to have the camera zoom in for some unknown reason to reveal her completely unharmed neck, shimmering with a thin layer of fake blood. “Jean Rollin felt so embarrassed by this film he wouldn’t admit for years he directed it under the name J.A. Lazer.” Makes sense. Makes a lot of sense.
3/2/2019 Haxan, 1922 (Rating: 4/5)
This is such a unique movie. I’m by no means well informed when it comes to silent film, but Häxan is unlike anything I’ve ever seen within the form. From a visual perspective, it so clearly captures a broad historical view of witchcraft, but also does so in service of shaping its point… that being a remarkably progressive (especially considering this was a hundred years ago) humanist view of gender, mental health, and the role of toxic religious superstition in the branding, condemnation, and punishment of those cast as witches throughout history.
3/2/2019 Vampyr, 1932 (Rating: 3/5)
This one wasn’t very effective for me. Outside of this being Dreyer’s first attempt at sound, Vampyr follows his landmark The Passion of Joan of Arc but translates with a far muddier execution. That said, I do appreciate its influence on gothic film that has since been carried forward for the near-century that has passed since its release.
3/2/2019 Don’t Look Now, 1973 (Rating: 3/5)
This is a familiar feeling. This is the Silence of the Lambs feeling. There’s something here that went right past me, and maybe in hindsight I’ll be able to capture a hint of what it was. Or maybe not. I want this feeling, and I want to trumpet my own deep understanding of the inner-workings of the film, but all I’m thinking about is how playful and passionate the sex scene was (but was it really that salacious?) and how the ending is point of legend among horror films with a twist, though I felt entirely let down by it. The relationship between Laura and John was played with excellence though. Maybe that’s what’s best to focus on right now, though SilentDawn’s review does better than I could ever hope to in summing that up,
“Both Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland bring emotionally complex, and intellectually profound performances; portraying a marriage on the brink of desolation with subtlety and class. Particularly in a mature and brilliant love scene between them, their chemistry is both intense and lost; signaling that in a moment where they couldn’t be closer to each other physically, but they couldn’t be further away emotionally. It’s a bravura moment in a film loaded with them.”
3/3/2019 Mommy, 2014 (Rating: 4.5/5)
“It’s movies like this that make me question whether I really want to have kids in the future or not.” “I wonder if your parents questioned the same thing when they had you.”
There is so much fear within me that this movie tapped into. I’m reminded of an old thought that is still somewhat fresh in my mind. “In those moments, where I’m too serious, I’m serious because of fear. Fear that I won’t get credit for being something I’m not. Fear that I’ll be found out as a fraud, a phony, or maybe fear that I’ll be rightly judged for my lack of profundity.” Much of it boils down fear of being found out as being equal to or lesser than. That’s the kind of person who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I keep falling back into that space where other people’s situations are met in my mind with nagging decades-old patterns of judgmental defensiveness. If I can separate myself from them, and make us seem different than one another, then space is freed to feel superior. I can look at your situation, judge your actions, and hypothesize why you’re wrong while my well-reasoned and deeply-considered reaction to that same situation would, of course, prove to be “right.” Equal to or greater than. That voice exists within me. There’s a lot of shame that’s felt when confronting this shameful thinking. Mommy beckons that voice to the mirror where I can see it. I don’t think I’ve felt anything quite like this from a movie before.
Wow, am I ever glad that I’ll never have a child. I had that thought here. I really did. Just think of what might happen! Who they could become, what situations might arise that I’m utterly incapable of handling. What if I became a parent to someone like Steve? Who can ever be ready for that? Surely Die wasn’t. But then again, no one ever is. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t love. Steve being Steve doesn’t mean that Die questioned whether she was right to have children, nor does it mean that she never questioned that either. Both answers fit. “Right” does not exist. I know my parents love me, but I also know the pain that I caused them. I know the hell I put them through, the rejection that I rubbed in their face, the anguish they experienced when I gave up and they were confronted by the same reality as was put on display here: That loving someone will not save them. No one’s ever ready for this. No one has all the tools to make all the right decisions. We’re all just trying our best.
3/3/2019 A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, 2014 (Rating: 3.5/5)
Described as “an Iranian vampire spaghetti western,” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a beautiful showcase of myriad disjointed influences braided together is if they were always meant to be one. Filmed in America, director Ana Lily Amirpour has called the setting an “Iran of my mind.” Born in the UK and raised in America, she’s been vocally playful about her heritage (“I’m made out of Iranian stuff”), which isn’t to say that the setting is simply meant to exist as an homage to her bloodline. Rather, it serves as a symbolic bloodline for the world, the oilfields being drained to sustain the other (as has been pointed out elsewhere here), the balance between violent lust and pragmatic necessity existing all the while. The resulting narrative is as seductive as the movie’s gothic noir visuals.
3/5/2019 Rififi, 1955 (Rating: 4/5)
Admittedly the run time felt a long two hours after so much tension was focused on the unparalleled heist scene. This is what you get with innovation though: A first run of an idea that would then be used as a stamp and repeated decade after decade with slight nuances or variances, each time sold as something new. Don’t get me wrong… Ocean’s Eleven is one of my favorites, but I’m so used to seeing storylines dangling, leaving doors open to sequels or spinoffs, that watching the finality of Rififi rumble its way to a conclusion was a welcomed relief.
3/6/2019 Videodrome, 1983 (Rating: 3.5/5)
I was born the year Videodrome was released and was sixteen when Cronenberg issued eXistenZ (which now sort of sounds like a male sexual enhancement drug). I was the right age to fall in love with the themes of the latter when it was released… It’s one of my favorites, and I might be in the minority of having seen it a dozen, or so, times before taking on Videodrome. Watching Videodrome through the lens of an eXistenZ fan is really something: There are so many “Oh, that’s where that came from” moments, but the feeling that I’m most left with is how in sync each is with still-relevant subject matter. The urge to disconnect from what’s conscious leads to a connection with an other, and when desire runs wild, pleasure finds its own limitations within freedom’s landscape. No matter which way the message is sliced, whether viewing Videodrome or eXistenZ, the medium remains the mirage.
3/6/2019 My Neighbor Totoro, 1988 (Rating: 4/5)
The portrayal of childhood here is magical, and I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. I’m also glad, in a way, that Totoro wasn’t the focus here—it was the children and their interactions with the world, each other, and their own imaginations. That was all communicated so well, though I can’t see this movie and not feel emotion over something that really doesn’t have anything to do with it…
I’m not sure exactly how my sister was introduced to My Neighbour Totoro but sometime in the mid ’90s she fell in love with it. We all lived in Calgary at the time and would make regular outings to garage sales and flea markets. At one flea market there was a video vendor, who sold VHS tapes, and had access to a big catalog of videos that could be ordered from a distributor somewhere. Things were usually kinda tight financially, but my dad ordered her a VHS copy of Totoro from that flea market. I don’t remember how long it took to arrive, but I’m sure it took ages. The point here is, even though this is the first time I’ve seen the movie myself, that thought is there accompanying it. When I see or hear “Totoro” that’s what I think of. My father and sister are estranged now. There are reasons. There are always reasons. But he loves her very much. And no matter what, he would always do everything he could for her. That’s still true. Totoro.
3/7/2019 [REC]², 2009 (Rating: 1.5/5)
Watching Rec 2 was a similar experience to The Animatrix in that I’m glad I watched it even though it explained away any of the mystique of the original in an attempt to build out the larger narrative. That said, Rec 2 was frustrating: Moving from the already shaky footage of the original to body cams, and ramping up the zombified demon people did very little to actually enhance the atmosphere of the location or build intensity. Then Ángela returns, only to be used as a cheap device to bridge to another sequel. There’s nothing here that Rec didn’t do better.
3/7/2019 8½, 1963 (Rating: 3/5)
Beautifully shot (!), but akin to my experience with Mirror, this had me drifting endlessly. My inability to tap into 8 1/2 is wholly on me, though that might also speak to an an inherent inaccessibility… Which made the film all the more frustrating, considering my general appreciation for monochromatic surrealism.
3/8/2019 Midnight Cowboy, 1969 (Rating: 4/5)
There are two scenes that linger with me from Mightnight Cowboy: Rizzo’s daydream of life in Florida as a bingo-calling, poolside pimp and the arthouse studio party. Both are vivid and incredible. This is true of so many of the scenes, visually. Dustin Hoffman is amazing in this role, with his belligerent ever-simmering defensiveness equally invoking pity and disgust. Add to it Jon Voight’s perfect embodiment of his character, embracing youthful hubris and naivety in equal parts, and the duo is unlike any on-screen pairing before or after.
3/8/2019 Cronos, 1993 (Rating: 3/5)
Guillermo del Toro was twenty-nine when he directed Cronos, which would land several Mexican Academy Awards including best picture and director. To me that speaks to the craft behind the film, which is only enhanced by the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray treatment: Under del Toro’s careful eye, the shedding of Jesus’ skin (for example) reveals first class prosthetic work, which could otherwise have translated as careless or cheesy had it not been for the crew’s craftsmanship. The visuals aside, my feelings of appreciation taper off from there… In Roger Ebert’s review, he wrote that Cronos “is not really about plot,” bur rather, “it is about character.” That may be true, but the characters brought nothing out of me, and by the end of the story I didn’t care about any of the characters’ motivations, or who lived or died. The more I think about it, the more curious that is considering how much effort was clearly poured in to the details of the film’s visuals.
3/8/2019 eXistenZ, 1999 (Rating: 3/5)
Having recently watched Videodrome for the first time it became clear just how in tune eXistenZ is with themes long established in Cronenberg’s cinematic resume. eXistenZ isn’t new to me; I’ve been a fan of it since I can remember, but seeing it now as something seeping through the pores of Videodrome (rather than its own wholly unique creative endeavor) made it feel a little watered down. I’ll forever take Jennifer Jason Leigh over James Woods, but this has me reconsidering how heavy the influence of nostalgia is in guiding my appreciation of eXistenZ. I’m just not sure it’s as good as I feel it is. I’ll have to watch Videodrome again, but now—if forced to choose—it might have displaced eXistenZ in my personal cinematic canon.
3/9/2019 The 39 Steps, 1935 (Rating: 2.5/5)
Through 1935’s lens, I can only imagine how The 39 Steps might have translated. Despite being one of Hitchcock’s first “talkies,” it translates as far more modern than something like Vampyr, despite being just a few years removed from it. It also utilizes themes and plot devices that would become staples of the director’s career. That said, through the lens of today it just didn’t hit for me. Nothing about it, from the production to the story, is particularly memorable, and I’m comfortable in resigning that (with the exception of Rope) Hitchcock simply might not speak to me.
3/9/2019 City of the Living Dead, 1980 (Rating: 1.5/5)
In terms of campy Italian gore Lucio Fulci is one of the best. City of the Living Dead isn’t much on story, but makes up for it with pretty cool practical effects: Bloody tears, the pitch axe through a coffin, a bench drill through the head, and so much brain squishing in between. This might not be quite as good as The Beyond, but it’s pretty close.
3/9/2019 What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires, 2005 (Rating: 2.5/5)
3/9/2019 Cat Sick Blues, 2016 (Rating: 1/5)
I’m trying to think about why Cat Sick Blues is sitting so sourly with me. Maybe it’s just the season of life that I’m in. Seven or eight years ago I went through a phase where I tried to find the most brutal or shocking movies, trudging my way through the likes of A Serbian Film; I’m not that person today.
I skimmed this interview with director Dave Jackson and around the ten minute mark he and the interviewer joke about how tame and fun they think the film is, especially compared to movies where animals are actually being hurt. (I’ve seen the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, too… which is also to say I’m not taking any moral high ground here over what makes for “fun” viewing… nor is that to say that I find Cannibal Holocaust particularly fun… this sentence really got out of control.) Maybe it’s just the intent that I can’t quite figure out.
There’s a scene toward the end where Claire (Shian Denovan) is being held captive by Ted (Matthew C. Vaughan) and she challenges him by calling out how it was probably only women who he murdered during his psychopathic mission. This sat strangely with me because then Cat Sick Blues acknowledges it’s aware of the “what” (its ceaseless exhibition of misogyny), but still makes no motion toward a “why” which might back it up. Why have the intellectually disabled fan who breaks into Claire’s building rape her after they get in an argument which results in him killing her cat? It establishes her as a rape victim, which I guess is in service of the plot(?), but having the character flip the switch to then assault Claire, steal a camera that had recorded the entire event, and then have that video get edited, produced, and uploaded online seems particularly strange. In a way, I’m glad I saw this so that I can re-assess my perspective on the likes of I Spit On Your Grave or The Last House on the Left, but even if the intent boiled down to exploitative slasher-shock, something about this (and its generally positive reception on this site) felt off-putting beyond the torrent of sexual violence as horror.
3/9/2019 Viy, 1967 (Rating: 2/5)
Many reviews here draw similarities between this and The Evil Dead. I understand where they’re coming from: There’s a funny bone to Viy, and it erupts in a ghoulfest at its peak. That said, as it’s a 1967 Russian funny bone, it’s severely dry and wasn’t exactly “haha” funny (though some of that’s likely due to the translation). The standout moment comes with the “WHERE WAS THIS THE ENTIRE REST OF THE FILM?!” reveal which shows up somewhere around the last five minutes of Viy… that scene alone bumped this up at least a half star.
3/10/2019 Ju-on: The Grudge, 2002 (Rating: 2/5)
I’m going to chalk this up as an experience similar to A Tale of Two Sisters in that the groundwork laid by Ju-on: The Grudge was incredibly influential on the genre, but now it sort of translates as quaint. I’m sure this is blasphemy and I’m only making matters worse here, but: I enjoyed the American remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar more than the original. (Whether it’s a “better” movie or not is debatable, but I’d watch the remake over this if given a choice.)
3/10/2019 Turn Me On, Dammit!, 2011 (Rating: 2/5)
The Lady Bird fan in me was looking for a little bit more of the mother/daughter dynamic, but I appreciate Turn Me On… for being what it is. I want to commend the sex positive message (I liked the scene where the mom asked why Alma called a phone sex number, and she just replied “Because I’m horny”), but what lingers most is a feeling of authenticity behind the frustrations that come with small town living, compiled by hormones and the awkward transition through teenage years.
3/10/2019 The Cell, 2000 (Rating: 2.5/5)
With immensely dark and intensely stunning visuals, The Cell is an incredibly unique experience (maybe one of my favorite visually!), though it owes its lot to Silence of the Lambs thematically. Truthfully I hadn’t even paid attention to the (well documented) schizophrenia misstep, which might prove I haven’t been paying a tremendous amount of attention to the dialog in the (at least) half dozen times I’ve watched this. I still love it though.
3/10/2019 A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984 (Rating: 3/5)
I might be the only person who watched the godawful 2010 remake before the original, but having scene this twice now it’s starting to sink in just how incredible it is… Even among horror classics it’s quickly become one of my favorites.
3/10/2019 Falling Down, 1993 (Rating: 2.5/5)
3/11/2019 Altered States, 1980 (Rating: 3/5)
I’m not really sure how I feel with a couple hours of sleep now standing between me and this one. Altered States worked great as a science fiction trip, and I don’t have any real qualms with it (some of the effects are super dated, I guess?), but something about it isn’t completely winning me over today as it did last night. The humanist ending was appreciated, and between this and The Devils, Ken Russell is really something, but maybe the feeling has something to do with the concept that we shouldn’t experiment too much with psychedelics or sensory deprivation chambers or we might believe we can turn into monkey men and kill a goat at the zoo and if we believe we can turn into monkey men WE CAN turn into monkey men, which is just really unfair to goats at zoos. Because what’d they ever do to hurt anyone?
3/11/2019 Friday the 13th Part 2, 1981 (Rating: 2/5)
This might be my favorite in the series (at least in terms of the entries I’ve seen), if only because it feels like Part 2 really starts to nail down the slasher-ravages-a-lakeside-camp thing here. The characters are oblivious, and in the end none of it matters. Kinda like every day life, depending on which side of the bed you wake up on.
3/11/2019 Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984 (Rating: 1.5/5)
A passable extension of Jason’s story made infinitely better by the presence of a mostly-bald hastily-shaved-his-own-head-with-a-BIC child-actor Corey Feldman.
3/12/2019 Cube, 1997 (Rating: 2.5/5)
Cube was one of my favorite movies for a good chunk of time shortly after it was released on VHS. It checked a few boxes for me that were well in line with who I was trying to be as a teenager (I think I felt more attached to the anti-Capitalist “we’ve got to get out of here and blow the lid off this whole thing” keeper-of-The-Real character then). I still love the minimalist setting; I still love the clunky interplay between the limited number of cast members; and I still love how it does a lot with an absolutely tiny (Canadian) budget.
3/12/2019 Dogtooth, 2009 (Rating: 4/5)
As Lise wrote, Dogtooth “creeps into your psyche.” I’m feeling that now… A few hours removed from finishing the film, its impact is just now really starting to settle in. There are so many small aspects that are so heavy now, though they felt so lightweight in the moment: The intentional misinterpretation of words meant to block any roads of imagination that would lead outside of the defined boundaries established by Father and Mother; Eldest daughter’s mirroring of Rocky Balboa’s slack-lipped boxing face; the stickers.
This film is a concept taken to extremes, but as the reviews here spell out, it is also realistic enough to speak to so many people on so many different levels. I really appreciate Aaron’s account of his home-schooling, relating it to Dogtooth. Movies were an outlet to another world for him growing up, and they were that for me, too. I was reprimanded for watching movies and listening to music that landed outside of what was deemed acceptable, which only made me want to go deeper down the rabbit hole. What was it that my Christian parents thought they were protecting me from?
Some of my cousins were home-schooled in a small town in Wisconsin. I grew up in a big city in Canada. I have never felt connection with them, like we’re almost different breeds of the same species. How much judgement have I used in my life to distance me from other people just doing the best they could with what they were provided with. This is creeping deeper into me now.
3/13/2019 Braindead, 1992 (Rating: 2.5/5)
I’ve endured a lot of early-’80s zombie schlock this past year, and somewhere in the back of my mind I just knew that something was going to put them all in their place. Dead Alive has done just that. My god, has it done just that. It’s not just that the splatter and gore-fest is cranked up to a maximum level here, it’s that Peter Jackson made a farce of the entire gross-out genre while doing so. You have guts oozing from someone’s mouth? We have guts exploding from every orifice possible! The motto must have been something like: Whatever you can think of, we’ll do it bigger and bloodier! I didn’t enjoy the cheeky humor as much as I did with The Evil Dead, but certain points had me doing a double-take because of how I was reacting to what was on the screen. Take for instance this sentence: “I laughed out loud when he punched the baby in the face.” I’m pretty sure that thought has never crossed my mind before. Let’s just say Tom Green owes a lot to this film, standing on the shoulders of mutilated giants.
3/13/2019 The Big City, 1963 (Rating: 3.5/5)
Throughout this entire film I kept coming back to one of my friends who I met about six months ago named Nishtha. Three years ago she moved from India to America for grad school, and as we’ve gotten to know each other a little better she’s exposed me to a lot about her country that I was boldly ignorant of. While The Big City portrays life in Calcutta, she’s from somewhere in Delhi (I can’t remember now), which itself leads to one of my first points of ignorance: How different the cultures can range within the country based on region. I don’t know what purpose sharing that serves in relation to the film, but the realization of some of my own blind spots helped set the tone for trying to remain open to how little I know about life in that part of the world. Life in The Big City.
The Big City portrays a universal sad-sack male jealousy in Subrata that rarely gets this sort of screen treatment (Both manipulative: “You’d rather go on making so many others unhappy?” and self-pitying “The wife’s a hero, the husband’s a zero”), though his personality was still allowed to shine through with his revolving sense of humor. I most appreciate the story of Arati’s transformation though—from the extreme self doubt of not quite knowing how to sign her own name on the job application to the pride of having earned her wage to the courage of standing up for her colleague (Nishtha would say Edith speaks “Hinglish”) in the midst of her own family’s financial insecurity—therein lies the beauty of the film for me.
This, maybe, is where I’d stop prior to meeting my new friend. The larger part of the picture is something I learned recently that still exists within the culture: You don’t marry a man, you marry a family. It seems quaint to look back at the familial concept portrayed in The Big City, and my first reaction was close to remembering how there were thirty-seven relatives crammed into a cramped apartment in Willy Wonka, but it seemingly still holds true to some degree. On the tail end of her mid-twenties, Nishtha isn’t looking to date, she’s looking to marry. But she’s not looking to marry, her family is. I use dating apps, she uses marriage apps. And when communication is made, it’s made between families, not between a pair of mutually interested individuals. I bring this up because of how much it added to the weight of Arati’s situation for me. In seeking out an evolving path she went against the unit, shunning conservative tradition in favor of a progressive (though mostly just pragmatic) approach to ensuring the family would be supported. I felt the ending was a little tidy considering the myriad implications Arati’s decision would have on herself and the family, but this was a really interesting window into a time and place that I still know practically nothing about.
3/13/2019 Baskin, 2013 (Rating: 1.5/5)
Slig001‘s review of the full-length feature left me curious about the short that inspired it, and I went in thinking something along the lines of, “Yeah, eleven minutes of Baskin is probably all the Baskin anyone might ever need.” As it turns out, I was wrong. The short doesn’t distill the full-length film, it acts more as a litmus test, gauging whether or not you’re up to the task of the feature. If you are, dive in… You’re likely to appreciate the window into hell that the latter provides.
3/13/2019 Battleship Potemkin, 1925 (Rating: 2.5/5)
Where the film is praised for its groundbreaking editing, I appreciate how Battleship Potemkin exhibits such mechanical production. That seems so appropriate considering the time and place from which it came to life. Everything about the film feels deliberate, which—especially given its vintage—results in a remarkable visual triumph.
3/14/2019 Man with a Movie Camera, 1929 (Rating: 4.5/5)
When this began rolling I thought I was in for an hour of actual silence. “A great way to fall asleep,” I thought to myself. Then the flicker of light, the direction of the composer, and the introduction of the soundtrack by The Cinematic Orchestra. Granted, Man with a Movie Camera wasn’t intended to be viewed alongside a score by a British jazz fusion duo, but then again it also wasn’t meant to be watched on a big ass flat screen in my living room while I lay on my couch in sweatpants. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ All that aside, the combination is what I’m rating, and the combination is remarkable. Visually, it’s the most innovative of any silent film I’ve seen (which isn’t saying a lot, but stay with me here) and leaps over The Passion of Joan of Arc as my favorite of the era. Most reviews here center on the visual experimentation and utilization of scenery-as-creative-playground, and I’m thinking that a proper review may be in order the second time I watch this, but for now all I can focus on is how incredibly complementary The Cinematic Orchestra’s score was in elevating Dziga Vertov’s already untouchable production. If you only ever watch one Soviet-era silent film, Battleship Potemkin be damned—let it be Man with a Movie Camera!
3/14/2019 Suspiria, 1977 (Rating: 2.5/5)
I’m not sure there’s any way Suspiria could have ever lived up to its own hype. Long before being brought into focus with last year’s (reimagined) remake, it claimed its place on so many lists showcasing the best horror films of all time. Don’t get me wrong, I think it definitely deserves to be in the conversation. But it didn’t really check many of the boxes regarding what I appreciate about the genre.
This is the first proper Dario Argento film I’ve seen (I enjoyed both Demons and Demons 2, where he’s credited as producer), but besides the loose affiliation, there’s no similarity there. Goblin’s score is noticeable, but not something I’d say I enjoyed (I’m going out on a limb here, as I thought the film was hot garbage, but Goblin’s contribution to Hell of the Living Dead was better musically). Many reviews here cite the acting or the clunky dubbing as downfalls, though neither is particularly bad considering much of what was being produced in that era. If anything, it wasn’t “scary,” it wasn’t “shocking,” and it wasn’t particularly interesting. All of that reads: Standard late ’70s/early ’80s Italian horror.
As dozens of ALL CAPS REVIEWS on the site are excited to point out WHAT MAKES SUSPIRIA GREAT ARE ITS AESTHETICS! Here’s a funny five star review: “the colour red didn’t exist until dario argento invented it in 1977.” But it’s not just that the technicolor pops off the screen (if pretty colors were all it took to make a great film, Only God Forgives would be considered one of the finest of the decade)—the lighting is beautiful, the set design is elaborate, and the wardrobe is on point. That’s what separates it from its contemporaries: It’s actually a quality production. It just wasn’t for me though.
3/14/2019 The Battle of Algiers, 1966 (Rating: 3.5/5)
I don’t really know what to make of this one. I hate war, however inevitable it may be. The portrayal of guerrilla warfare in The Battle of Algiers wasn’t shocking, but it was realistic. It was human, if that makes sense. Not humane, but human. The same goes for the torture scenes. I felt the characters here, even if I couldn’t tap into their motivations. “It’s hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it. But it’s only afterwards, once we’ve won, that the real difficulties begin.” This oft-quoted line is an evergreen abstraction that bears no limitation to its potential application. Maybe that’s what my takeaway is with this one? A reminder of how difficult it is to make a change.
Bringing things to the personal level here, think about this line as it relates to personal change. Not a grand, sweeping Let’s Take This Country Back ™ sort of change, but change within the self. Change is one of the most impossible roadblocks to overcome; change is difficult to sustain; and the reality that awaits the other side of change may prove to be the most difficult portion of the equation to overcome. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.
3/14/2019 Hot Rod, 2007 (Rating: 2/5)
An absolute palette cleanser, this time around I also watched the Hot Rod deleted scenes (then again with commentary), the outtakes/extended scenes, and even the useless mini-backstage-cast-interview feature… I hadn’t watched any of it before and wanted to see what I was missing. It was kinda surprising to see Jorma Taccone celebrate the wrap of the movie by strutting around without his pants off, humping people. As he was doing that I was trying to envision a woman casually doing the same. I feel like the chances she’d be laughed at (even in that sort of awkward, “I’m tolerating this, but…” kind of way) are slim to none. What’s that say about him doing it then? There were a couple deleted scenes that I thought were really funny, even though they would have slowed the movie down. One where Frank puts down Rod while he’s talking to Denise (“He’s just mad because I tied him in a fight earlier”); Will Arnett’s Jonathan expounding on the greatness of the Dorf on Golf videos; and several AM radio announcer lines from Chris Parnell’s Barry (which were all hilarious, and were apparently all written on a whim by Seth Meyers).
3/14/2019 Fireworks, 1947
Remarkable, especially given the social constraints in play at the time of its release (hell, it’s powerful now). Within Fireworks I see defiance against toxic standards of masculinity, a search for one’s own moral compass, and something of a reconciliation with an “authentic” self. Having just been introduced to Anger’s work, I’m curious to see how he explores other (darker) themes a few decades removed from this one.
3/15/2019 The Canal, 2014 (Rating: 1.5/5)
The Canal was building with so much promise for the first thirty to forty-five minutes, leveraging sympathy and emotion in the development of why the audience should care about the main character or his son. It had me: I was invested just enough in the father, son, and the caregiver – I was on the father’s side, even, and I wanted them to be alright. Slowly that was lost amid the elements that were shoehorned in to make this more of “horror” movie (otherwise it was a good psychological thriller to that point), using predictable plot devices (had Ivan Kavanagh not heard of Shutter by this point?) to bring this to a predictable end point. More than anything I was annoyed at the end, and annoyed that The Canal was forced to trade in the humanity it had developed in the first act for lame duck shock and a twist that was hardly surprising.
3/16/2019 I Saw the Devil, 2010 (Rating: 3/5)
I Saw the Devil aches as an experience, though what’s to make of that feeling is not immediately evident. The catch and release torture of Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) is as raw (and good lord is it raw at times) as the mostly off-screen violence committed against his own victims, but I argue there’s something more to it than its visceral visuals depict. Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-Hun) is darkly portrayed as a vengeful hero looking to avenge the murder of his fiance. Superficially that makes sense, but where does his pain reconcile with the manifestation of his obsession? Is it even revenge that he’s seeking?
The film begins with a sweet moment of Kim Soo-hyeon (apologetically?) singing to his fiance over the phone while she awaits a tow truck, alone in the snow on yet another of her birthdays he’s missed due to his job. In the end, after all the pain he created in the name of honoring his departed sweetheart, he couldn’t outrun his feelings and breaks down sobbing, overtaken by the emotion that had been chasing him since her death. At first it seems that the grim result of his efforts might finally allow him to grieve, but I don’t think that’s it at all. If anything, the guilt he’s been trying to avoid the entire time may have finally caught up with him. Forget showing Kyung-chul any measure of grace, would this story have been different if he had been able to forgive himself? The answer to that question may be just as unsettling as the on-screen punishment was, blindly committed in the name of vigilante justice.
3/16/2019 El Topo, 1970 (Rating: 1.5/5)
The moment I start thinking about writing something related to El Topo it’s like I begin having a conversation where I’m defending myself against a judgmental inner critic who “gets it.” And I don’t mean a critic who merely “gets” art. The critic “gets” everything I don’t. Because that critic is smarter than I am. That critic is more perceptive than I am, their palate is refined to appreciate more nuanced flavors, and their inner wisdom more attuned to the ethereal cycles of the universe. That voice wants me to believe it’s realer than I am. That critic doesn’t just understand abstract symbolism, that critic savors it. Savoring, though, isn’t enough, as identity is built around this sort of attachment. Tell that to the critic, though. The critic is above identity. Sometimes the best offense is defensiveness.
Maybe you have that voice, too, or maybe I’m alone in this one… Either way, it’s forever this internal critic who speaks to me through films such as El Topo, quick to defend by advising how I don’t understand art (nearly 1400 five star reviews can’t be wrong), which is a crime against culture even in situations where that art is not meant to be understood. But even within Jodorowsky’s body of work, El Topo lacks the excitement of Fando y Lis and bears no resemblance to the lofty aspirations of The Holy Mountain. It’s grand, sure, but what would you call a grand gesture of using inaccessible symbolism to shield oneself from any threat of criticism, put in place by a creator who cast himself as God in his own film?
3/16/2019 Daisies, 1966 (Rating: 4/5)
The cultural context behind Daisies is interesting, but at this moment it doesn’t contribute much to why the film resonated with me the way it did. Knowing that it was banned, and why, or what the symbolic gestures were aimed at is all interesting, but little of it reconciles with what my gut reaction was. This will probably be off-base in terms of what the film was supposed to mean, but it’s what I’m taking away from it on the first go-around: I saw the women as ageless girls, curious and playful in their approach to exploration, unburdened by the immense weight of toxic femininity, and uncaring of why that could possibly matter. Having just watched El Topo, Daisies was so refreshing in its lack of self-importance. Intentional or not, that resonated as a thematic middle finger to patriarchal filmmaking, recognizing male insecurity behind it and wryly commenting: Why So Serious? Not bad for my first step into Czech New Wave.
3/16/2019 Hell House LLC, 2015 (Rating: 1.5/5)
I’m a sucker for found footage and Hell House LLC was about as fun as the genre can be at this point. Another review called this “a spiritual successor to The Blair Witch Project” and I get that vibe, as well, with the creepy interplay between the occult and a group of unsuspecting knuckleheads who have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. The thrills weren’t as bad as the acting, which is all you can hope for with something like this.
3/17/2019 Night of the Demons, 2009 (Rating: 0.5/5)
3/17/2019 The Lives of Others, 2006 (Rating: 3.5/5)
When the film ended I turned to my friend who was watching it with me and said “That was lovely.” She smirked and asked if I was being sarcastic. I wasn’t. The story was well executed. The acting was really well done. There was tension. There was emotion. The film feels complete. It was lovely… It just wasn’t something that spoke to me.
3/18/2019 Beer League, 2006 (Rating: 1/5)
3/18/2019 The Foot Fist Way, 2006 (Rating: 0.5/5)
3/18/2019 The Big Boss, 1971 (Rating: 1/5)
While the lessons from Bruce Lee’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do are becoming more influential in my life, I’m becoming increasingly unenthusiastic regarding the prospect of finding something I appreciate amid his film output. Enter the Dragon was boorish at times, but nothing like the first two thirds of The Big Boss which bordered on tedious. The final fight sequences were entertaining, but by that point they were hardly enough to redeem the film.
3/19/2019 Burning, 2018 (Rating: 3.5/5)
I’m conflicted over this one. Admittedly, I wasn’t in tune with Burning for its first half, but became more involved the deeper the story went. There are takes both for and against the film that I appreciate, but in trying to remove myself from group thinking my way into believing that it did more for me than was actually the case, I began reflecting on which scenes actually linger with me. That didn’t really help its cause.
Lucy wrote, “the movie (and the protagonist) don’t seem to really care about [Hae-mi], or what happened to her, but only how HE feels about it.” When Jong-su and Ben are on the porch smoking weed and Jong-su shares how he loves Hae-mi—that’s the scene that still lingers with me. For as much of a psycho as Ben was, if he was even real, his smirking response was gracious. In this scene it makes sense that “it is not just the story of Burning that we have been watching, it is Jong-su’s (an aspiring novelist’s) version of that story.” We’re to believe Ben is making fun of him. We’re to believe Ben is wrong. But what part of Jong-su’s intoxicated romantic confession wasn’t meant to be scoffed at? What on Earth are we supposed to believe he means by “love” in that scene when it’s clearly positioned as a weak request for Ben to exit stage left. Why can’t Ben just leave him alone so he can “have” Hae-mi all to himself? The value of Jong-su’s narrative isn’t there for me. I just can’t seem to get behind him as a character and moments like these push me even farther away from caring.
Maybe the vague presentation is brilliant, maybe it’s not (or maybe it’s all just a gay love story). For now, my reaction remains somewhere in the middle.
3/19/2019 The Return of the Living Dead , 1985 (Rating: 2/5)
3/20/2019 Re-Animator, 1985 (Rating: 2.5/5)
My gut reaction is that I still appreciate the overall package of The Evil Dead the most, when it comes to campy horror comedies, but this is probably going to register even a little bit higher than Dead Alive for me. I didn’t immediately buy in to the dry wit of Mr. West, but I couldn’t help but laugh after the film really got going. And that scene where he and Dan fight off the reanimated cat? That’s more comedy than horror. There’s something else here that I appreciated: The non-discriminatory use of full-frontal nudity. Most movies of its ilk are ripe with big breasted women, but wouldn’t dare to show a penis (the horror!). But, I mean, if we’re to believe that these cadavers are coming back to life in the morgue, they’re probably not going to have strategic bits of clothing covering up their naughty bits, are they? Well done, whoever called that shot.
3/20/2019 Persona, 1966 (Rating: 3.5/5)
My gut reaction here is that I feel ignorant as hell when it comes to this film, and don’t understand the message. I actually want to watch this again, because my god I want to learn what that message is so I, too, can appreciate this thing, but I’m also sensitive to the trappings of films like Brazil, where no matter how much I want to LOVE them, I just can’t quite get there.
Beyond that, Persona is a hard film to log here, if only because it’s a film that is so hard to not rate higher, or say I appreciate more, even though at this moment I enjoyed it about as much as I understood it. The bits and pieces stand out—Alma’s sexual monolog being one of them, the lighting is masterful—but on the whole I still have this aching feeling like this is more an item for Criterion Collection fetishists than it is something I’m ever going to lose my damn mind over. I really don’t want to sound like a hater here, having just given a ho-hum review to the much beloved Burning, but neither opinion is dishonest. Ignorant, maybe, but truthful.
3/21/2019 In the Mood for Love, 2000 (Rating: 4/5)
One of the words that comes to mind when thinking about this film is: “delicate.” That’s not to be taken ironically, as in: This film was “precious.” I mean the portrayal of humanity was delicate. And so completely accurate. Heartbreak in the mere “practicing” of confronting one’s partner about their potential infidelity. Portraying a freeze frame as if to signal how time becomes trapped in our minds. How many images of past loves are locked away in my own psyche, filtered through the lens of an untrustworthy memory, reflective of a moment that may not have existed quite the way I think it did. What exists beyond the snapshot of her walking away? “Refinement” is another word that feels true of the film. “Unconsummated love” two more of significance. An emotional affair. What is that? I think back to past relationships, and my thoughts drift to the mundane. How confining emotions become when the consequences feel so major. Sometimes the consequences feel too much to bear. The emotions bind until time reframes the affair. Time changes everything. How delicate the mind is when beliefs and emotions direct the production. How delicate we become when the consequences of time’s thumbprint are overlooked.
3/21/2019 Borgman, 2013 (Rating: 3.5/5)
I’m going to borrow a term that describes both Borgman and Bergman (surely that’s just a coincidence, right?): “Cryptic.” My opening thoughts on Persona are equally as appropriate here as they were there, which brings a frustrated smile to my face: “My gut reaction here is that I feel ignorant as hell when it comes to this film, and don’t understand the message.” What is it about Borgman‘s insanity that leaves me wanting more versus the (overly?) “intelligent” opaqueness of Persona? Why does one film resonate and the other frustrates? It’s really enjoyable being exposed to this sort of conundrum. (Also, I recognize that it’s bordering on meta to ponder why one non-linear work is appreciated more than another—as if the answer to that should be completely obvious, or even remotely tangible—but here I am.)
I’m fairly uninformed when it comes to the Bible, but reading how Borgman is ripe with both biblical and artistic allegory makes this experience even that much more satisfying. The non-threatening invasiveness of the evil behind Camille Borgman and his crew is baffling, yet that may be why the unassuming nature of its danger is so integral to the story. Why the witch hunt at the beginning? (And why doesn’t the chase of the under-dwellers continue beyond the first scene? What’s to make of the lynch mob’s sense of purpose quickly dissipating like smoke in the wind? How quickly do we lose sight of evil when it’s no longer within reach?) There is so much here that I love without understanding it: the dogs, the cement head murders… and the more I read, the more there is to appreciate (Borgman’s role as something of a night “mare” being high on that list).
3/21/2019 Mimic, 1997 (Rating: 2.5/5)
I’m fairly sure my teenage self first became enamored by this film due to Mira Sorvino’s involvement, but it ended up acting as something of a gateway drug into dark cinema for me. The entire movie is visually dark, but that’s not really what I mean: I mean the dark science fiction of genetic mutation and the darkness of gore (tasteful gore, if such a thing exists). That aside the downfall of being a major theatrical release is use of major theatrical cliches, and moments such as the sweeping dramatic score punctuating the final scene (you know, so we really understand that we’re supposed to feel something when the words “we’re going to have a baby” are spoken… all while a newly-established orphan embraces the couple’s legs) do take a little away from the experience now. That said, Mimic is still one of my favorites of Guillermo del Toro’s.
3/21/2019 The Mothman Prophecies, 2002 (Rating: 2/5)
The concept here is better than the delivery, though for being a 2002 supernatural thriller starring Richard Gere, it really could have been a lot worse than it is. As corny as my take might be, I think what’s stuck with me is that weird angle of having some thread of truth being based on an actual event. This didn’t happen—that’s for sure—but when I watch The Mothman Prophecies, I wonder a little bit about what did happen. Maybe even what can happen. You gotta remember, this wasn’t released too terribly long after X-Files hysteria left its imprint on a generation (myself included). Maybe the truth is out there. Maybe it isn’t. Either way, imagining what might be possible can be kind of fun.
3/22/2019 Fitzcarraldo, 1982 (Rating: 2.5/5)
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald: “Conquistador of the useless.” Separating the stunt of Fitzcarraldo from the film Fitzcarraldo is no easy task. I have a vague memory of having watched Burden of Dreams (or at least clips from it) years ago but haven’t had any considerable desire to pursue the film itself—Burden is like a trailer that gives everything away (and then some, actually). Therein lies the problem for me: The spectacle of the near mythical series of events that transpired around the creation of this film far outweigh any artistic angle of the movie itself. Even by Werner Herzog’s own account, Klaus Kinski was “a madman,” though that hardly translates into an engaging character. The Letterboxd review that makes the most sense to me simply states, “This movie is a metaphor for itself.” Fitzcarraldo is a triumph of determined will to see an unparalleled creative project through to its completion, certainly, but at what cost and for whose benefit?
3/22/2019 A Separation, 2011 (Rating: 4/5)
A Separation depicts a sense of frailty at every turn. A production focused on the practical value of simple, crisp shots, the complexity of the film lies within its richly nuanced characters. Simple characters, but so real. So human. In one scene Nader is bathing his father, who cannot care for himself due to his limited mental and physical capacity, and he breaks down in tears. I feel that fear. The shattered expectation of what life should be like. Of who we become with time, who our parents become with age. In another scene he’s defending his own freedom through a slight manipulation of the truth. Who could care for his father if he were imprisoned, he argues? His daughter? Is complete honesty worth its price? Then, we come to find out the other truths that are relevant to the film’s central focus, each obscured by an individual character’s personal motivations and intentions. Each decision human. Each situation understandable. The outcome? Fragile to its core.
3/22/2019 Paranormal Activity, 2007 (Rating: 1.5/5)
The only previous time I’ve seen this movie was when it was released, watching it in a crowded downtown theater in Minneapolis. The youth went wild that night. It was a group experience similar to watching The Blair Witch Project in a crowd. Paranormal Activity isn’t a particularly good movie, and it’s one that suffers when viewed outside the confines of a late-2000s urban theater, but I do appreciate how it’s still able to build tension. Despite knowing that this is a “ghost” movie, and knowing its approach, it still moves in on the subject slowly, non-threatening with each small progression in its presence until turning the corner on mortal danger.
3/23/2019 Summer of 84, 2018 (Rating: 1/5)
The entirety of the movie was based around either shoehorning ’80s references into the dialog—leaving it clunky and bloated, uselessly grabbing at nostalgia for its own sake—or aping other already-popular retro trends to capitalize on their sense of fresh. If you were a fan of Stranger Things but have grown tired of compelling story lines or interesting characters, Summer of 84 has you covered.
3/23/2019 Ida, 2013 (Rating: 3/5)
Both beautiful and curious in its composition, Ida is a story of exploration. It’s fitting that there’s something of a road trip central to the plot as the lead character journeys to discover who she is and why she is. The core message that I connected with here was something along the lines of identity shopping, which has been a near-constant for the majority of my own adult life. Who am I now, and why? What options are available for who I am to become? And of the options that seem attractive, am I willing to do the work and live with the consequences of dedicating myself to that path? Capturing hints of each stage of this equation, Ida opens its arms to this exploration. And in doing so the film offers a reminder that any sense of certainty of tomorrow is still dependent on the decisions of today.
3/23/2019 The Conjuring, 2013 (Rating: 1.5/5)
The clap slaps, and I enjoyed both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga well enough, but the reliance on portraying Catholic tradition as a singular mighty defender against possession worked against the movie instead of lending it an absorbing quasi-religious mystique. Beyond landing as standard mainstream horror fare, there are a few really small, inconsequential moments in The Conjuring that rubbed me the wrong way: Ron Livingston’s haircut is the worst haircut ever, and no matter how much I appreciate Gosling, the Dead Man’s Bones track felt incredibly forced given how scant a role music played throughout the rest of the film.
3/23/2019 The Possession, 2012 (Rating: 1/5)
The Possession has the courage to answer the age-old question of who would win in a showdown between a Hasidic rapper and a demon-possessed child. Watching this movie again, only to realize that it doesn’t star Javier Bardem—as was logged in my faulty memory—is a fairly apt metaphor for the experience of The Possession as a whole.
3/24/2019 I Am Not a Witch, 2017 (Rating: 2.5/5)
Let’s say this was real. The tragedy of it all. The sickness of that moment on the talk show where, even when challenged with something resembling sanity, the government official won’t budge from his take. Free speech is important so long as you don’t cross a line of decency in its practice, he says, while defending the accusation that show’s guest is a witch first, and a child second. Or, let’s say this was fiction. The only pop song (that I recall) comes near the end with Estelle’s “American Boy,” which features a pre-Kim, pre-MAGA Kanye. Is that supposed to say something? Whose culture could that be mocking? Does leveraging a falsely imprisoned child to sell magic eggs communicate a point, or is it just ridiculous? How about the commentary of a witch, “freed” only by decades of servitude and the (eh-hem) respectability of marriage, yet never given clearance from her past accusations or acknowledged as a woman by her own right? Either way, the gods must be crazy.
3/24/2019 The Devil Inside, 2012 (Rating: 1/5)
Audacity is a word that comes to mind when thinking about The Devil Inside. Reviewers here H-A-T-E this movie. Hate it. As in, nearly half of the ratings are for one or one-half stars. Even for a run of the mill found footage horror flick, that’s pretty bad. But despite the reviews, I don’t think the reaction has that much to do with the movie itself: It’s really not that bad, especially compared to others within the sub-genre.
The Devil Inside opens with a silly caveat that “The Vatican did not endorse this file or aid in its completion” (does the Vatican normally just go around endorsing films, aiding in their completion?) and ends with a loose thread title card. In the middle is some sloppy found footage exorcist schlock—which does include a genuinely cool contortionist scene, I should add—but there’s nothing there that should really spark this much vitriol (or spark any emotion of any kind, actually). Plenty of movies have that sort of loose end, unsolved mystery ending.
Most of the outcry is over how The Devil Inside then directs viewers to a website for more information on the case (“To follow the continuing investigation, visit TheRossiFiles.com”)… as if the real ending is to be found online… though, to be clear, the credits don’t claim that some secret ending is being withheld (see: any number of half star reviews), only that a website exists with more information on what was just viewed. None of that is particularly daring, until we get to the angle of how this thing magically grossed more than ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS, and no one bothered to renew the domain name.
3/25/2019 Alleluia, 2014 (Rating: 2.5/5)
For every instance of a (more) mainstream psychological horror film like Hereditary getting exposure, there are a half dozen Alléluias rumbling beneath the surface, waiting to be seen. The beginning of this movie made me cringe, witnessing someone at a crossroads between codependency and mental illness, seemingly being taken advantage of by a predator, hunting his victims for financial scraps. I hate that type of story-line. I hate people who prey on the weakness of others. It’s here, though, where the reality of the situation begins to reveal itself. This was beautifully shot, well acted, and captured the absolute lunacy of the events that were being portrayed on the screen. I wish that knowing how characters were based on real people influenced my appreciation of the work, but it just doesn’t leave much of an impression on me. Having the sound of a dull thud rumble through my own body, however, when an ax penetrates bone on the screen… that one leaves a mark.
3/25/2019 The Act of Killing, 2012
I’ve tried putting together thoughts on this film a few times, but nothing quite feels right. There’s a dream-like quality to the production of The Act of Killing, but reading an interview with the anonymous co-director or a comment from an Indonesian who is seeing a change as a result of all this brings the focus back to reality. Tens of thousands of people are each individually responsible for the murders of thousands of others, resulting in a death toll that lands between five hundred thousand to two and a half million, per director Joshua Oppenheimer. The American government backed the coup that kicked this off. The Indonesian government still doesn’t recognize that this genocide even happened. Evil infiltrates every pore of the history behind what’s portrayed in this film.
Like many others, I’d have never watched The Act of Killing if it were a more traditional documentary. But now that I have, I don’t know what to do with any of the feeling it has brought with it. Human brains don’t do well with big numbers. The local sports arena holds about seventeen thousand people when at capacity for a hockey game. I can barely imagine the faces of that many people, let alone what the humanity packing ten such arenas would look like. How about one hundred of those stadiums, filled with people, who are all then murdered. By hand. At best their sin was one of political affiliation; at worst, because their ethnicity was close enough. The scene that lingers with me focuses on one of the death squad members, reclining, belly extended, reminiscing over what it was like to rape a legion of women, so long as they were “pretty.” Speaking of a nameless, faceless fourteen year old, he added that it might be hell for her, but it was heaven for him. This was locker room talk on a whole other level. This is the kind of shit that some people only dream that they could get away with. Nothing I’m writing at the moment feels genuine. I’ll just leave it at that.
3/25/2019 Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015 (Rating: 3/5)
One of the things I’m picking up on is the relationship between the film’s hyperactive attributes and the corresponding reception from fans of the movie. Mad Max is loud on so many levels and it’s interesting to view the reception of the movie through that lens, as when reading the reviews on Letterboxd every aspect of the film is amplified: The feminist themes aren’t just refreshing, they’re revelatory; the action sequences aren’t just exciting, they’re genre-defining; the colors and cinematography aren’t just luscious, they’re paradigm shifting. This is a really strong action movie (maybe one of the best ever?), and one that will likely age well considering its all of the above, but it’s still primarily an action movie. Remove that action, and what are we left with?
3/26/2019 Come and See, 1985 (Rating: 4.5/5)
The Kino DVD version of Come and See that I watched included the following late-’90s quote from Sean Penn,
“Several years ago I got a call from my father telling me to drop whatever I was doing and make my way over to the UCLA campus. One of the ‘halls’ was putting on a showing of a Russian movie, by a director named Klimov, and it was not to be missed. A veteran of some thirty-six missions over Berlin during the Second World War, my dad had never been one to embrace filmdom’s history of war, feeling either their inaccuracies or appalled by the common romantic view of battle. This film Come and See, he said, was a great portrait of and against war. I’m glad I made it over there that day because what I saw will stay with me forever. It is not only a masterpiece of filmmaking, but of humanity itself.”
The acting in Come and See is unlike anything I’ve seen before, let alone from children. It’s been said that Aleksey Kravchenko (who played the lead, Florya) was to be hypnotized during the more intense scenes, but was not susceptible to hypnosis. It’s also claimed that his hair turned grey durning the shooting of the film. His journey, from being carelessly willing to be part of, to experiencing the depths of trauma-induced insanity, is harrowing. The transformation of Olga Mironova (Glasha) from charming to desolated is terrifying. She never acted again.
I live a life of safety. I don’t know this kind of fear. I don’t know anything about war, truly. I know what I see and hear in movies and on TV. That’s true of most of us. Yet while films like Dunkirk are interesting, they feel hollow to me—aesthetically innovative but lacking a center. Come and See reveals the core, and therein lies terror. Actual terror. And for me, this is the film by which all other depictions of war will be measured against.
3/26/2019 A Bookshelf on Top of the Sky: 12 Stories About John Zorn , 2002
Learning of John Zorn’s Naked City was a Napster years revelation. I had no idea anything like that existed. Why did it exist? Who were these people who listened to it on their morning commute? I admire the idea of that imagined person, much like I admire the idea of the music itself. John Zorn is a composer. John Zorn is a savant. Yet despite being created from the viewpoint of a self-professed fan, this documentary lacks a tangible human connection. Instead, it does well enough to play to his genius while failing to bridge the gap between an outsider’s curiosity and the alienating nature of the work itself.
3/26/2019 The House of the Devil, 2009 (Rating: 3/5)
As an homage, The House of the Devil exceeds so much of the work that it’s styled after. That’s part of why I enjoy it, but the word enjoy is a deceptive one. This is a slow burn appreciation that is still building. One of the words that I see used in reviews is “subtle,” which makes so much sense here. In an age of hyper-shock horror, a film that moves at a human pace feels… unusual. But that’s what this is. Human… and subtle. Greta Gerwig isn’t over the top with her character, playing some version of a cliched ditsy blonde sidekick. She’s a normal person who looks out for her friend the way normal people do. Jocelin Donahue plays the role of, again, a fairly normal woman: College age, broke, overly cautious of germs, eager for independence, and a little bit desperate because of it. Neither are put in a position where they’re randomly in their bras and panties. Neither are portrayed as incomplete without male company. They’re human. The horror: Subtle. The supernatural is never welcomed into the fold. The evil here is an undercurrent of weird vibes, for the most part. The suspense of piecing together moments in the mind and drawing conclusions about what might be lurking is the space that most of this film inhabits. And in the end, no answers. No force-fed ending, no over-the-top theatrics. Just questions. A freeze frame. Vintage stylized credits role. Every bit of it subtle. Subtle and still burning.
3/27/2019 Styria, 2014 (Rating: 1.5/5)
Vampires, suicide, mystery, romance… This was shot appropriately dark, aligned with equally brooding themes. The ingredients were all there, but the resulting film was somehow less enjoyable in practice than the concept of any one of its individual parts.
3/27/2019 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010 (Rating: 2.5/5)
For one part of this reflection, I’m looking at Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives as something of a Thai Tree of Life. (Thanks to Peter’s insight.) For the other part, I’m thinking about this review which compares it to films like A Separation. Commenting on the experience of that movie, the author writes, “It’s not so much about asking the viewers to actually engage in complex thinking processes as it is about giving them the feeling that they are doing so while at the same time limiting their interpretive possibilities. Apichatpong, on the other hand, makes movies that are more experiential than intellectual. He lets us sink into the heavy unfolding of unessential time.”
So as to not misrepresent that quote, I’d recommend you reading the entire review, where the writer goes on to lean into why he likes the film (he’s an intellectual and this is intellectual cinema) while then checking himself by recognizing the shallowness of that sort of argument. Or, at least, I think that’s what going on. See, this is a fine example of what’s been plaguing me this entire month through the March-long foreign film challenge… That struggle being related to the separation of movies into two ultra-broad categories (linear and non-linear) and how to appreciate film on both sides of that coin. This intellectual cinema idea previously came up when I watched Persona, which failed to resonate with me on my first viewing. There’s plenty that went over my head with it, and I’m sure my understanding of the film will change with time, but my take on it was simply reflective of a film that didn’t speak to me. That’s one side of my reaction, but also, there’s also something to it about its “interpretive possibilities.” Therein lies a potential for fault as I didn’t commit myself to it enough, maybe. Or I’m working from a shallow pool of imagination, from which I’m not yet able to see the potential for what’s there.
This is where a film like Uncle Boonmee gets murky for me though. If I agree that this is an intellectual piece of cinema, leveraging the freedom of artistic interpretation as it chugs along a thoroughly non-linear conceptual highway, then are any conclusions made by anyone remotely valid about the piece as a work of high-minded art? Is it then infallible? Does subverting linear narrative to signal intellectualism hold water as an assumed mission statement, on its own, even though the end result of doing so makes little to no sense (as I’d argue it does in this case)?
“An ambitious, sprawling gateway to the past. Our pasts. And how we move forward in spite of all that’s ever happened.” That’s the whole of what I wrote after my first watch of The Tree of Life, and damned if it wouldn’t work here, too. My interpretation of this film is is framed between the earth-bound and the spiritual, even though I have no idea what the purpose was behind the vast majority of the film (who am I kidding, all of the film).
And that’s fine, but no different than my reaction to Persona, or any other movie I’ve seen. My feelings weren’t tethered strictly to what was on screen, but what I saw on the screen, and what that triggered within me. In the event that this isn’t evident by now, this really isn’t about Uncle Boonmee. I don’t have many thoughts about the film, itself, as it didn’t particularly speak to me. It didn’t suggest a great meaning, nor did its Buddhist overtones translate as inspiring. The final scene, with the monk, came close to being impactful in making a statement seeming to encourage acceptance of what is over what could be. But the film almost glossed over the fact that Boonmee was a soldier and murdered untold others because they were communist (which, it turns out, I’m awfully sensitive to, having just watched The Act of Killing). So where, then, is the motivation to care about this guy? Or his ex-wife ghost? Or the son who reappears at the dinner table having morphed into a beast, rambling about how he (and this is a quote), “Couldn’t have experienced this if I hadn’t mated with a monkey ghost.”
Certainly this was creative, but it didn’t feed me and it didn’t inspire me. Maybe I just didn’t appreciate the film because it didn’t provide me with a feeling that I’m an intellectual watching something intellectual (as A Separation did) despite not actually understanding intellectual art, myself. Which is fine. We owe each other nothing—it owes me especially little as all I’ve done is exchange my time for potential. And what flowed out of the film was all this: Reflection, challenge, and maybe even growth. It’s not for nothing, and is a hell of a return on investment for a film that I really just turned on because it had a quirky title and checked a box for me in a month-long foreign film challenge.
3/27/2019 Severance, 2006 (Rating: 1/5)
3/27/2019 Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, 2005 (Rating: 3/5)
This is the second of the Vengeance Trilogy I’ve seen behind Oldboy (which remains one of my favorite movies), and what was most apparent early on was the leap forward in production. The level of style that went into the shots here was amazing, and I happened upon the fade to monochrome version which ended up making the tail end of the film that much more bold and impressive. (Think: The darkness Sin City without all the rape vibes.) That aside, there was a richness to the film that left it feeling unique; I nearly misinterpreted the dark (nearly wry) humor numerous times as it blended into the grim storyline so well. Elsewhere, others pick up on (and explain, thankfully) some of the thematic elements that weren’t immediately evident to me: Ryan’s insight into how the film does well in withholding evidence is interesting, as is Jonathan’s take on revenge from a male vs. female perspective. I recommend reading both.
3/28/2019 Opera, 1987 (Rating: 2.5/5)
There are at least two people on Letterboxd who enjoy Dario Argento’s Opera more than Suspiria, and I’m one of them. Watching the extra footage, it would seem it’s Dario’s favorite of his films, too, as—by his explanation—it’s a culmination of all of his influences. Having only seen two of his movies I can’t exactly speak to that, but I can attest to the almost overwhelming level of detail that the film exhibits. The opera performance scenes are truly beautiful, horror movie or not. This isn’t to say that the horror elements of Opera aren’t particularly memorable, as the bullet through the peephole sequence is a new addition to my favorite kill scenes. The movie isn’t without its flaws—Opera succumbs to typical clunky Italian overdub issues, and to say the ending is a bit of a stretch would be putting it lightly—but it was otherwise one of the more absorbing horror experiences I’ve had of late. Also, between this and The House of the Devil, I’m really starting to develop a thing for pleated baggy pants and mom jeans. The ’80s are insidious.
3/28/2019 Campfire Tales, 1997 (Rating: 1/5)
3/28/2019 American Splendor, 2003 (Rating: 2.5/5)
I probably haven’t seen this in over a decade, but remembered it fondly for no reason in particular. It just had a warm pleasant hum in my memory. The format is rather unique—blending reenactment with commentary from the subject, and animation—and even now, I have that same warm pleasant hum. But I don’t know what the point of all of it was. Harvey Pekar and the gang were talented but never “commercially viable,” and had brushes with success that came and went, like the image of success tends to do. But in the end he got a retirement cake and some hugs, which is probably about all anyone can ever ask for.
I wasn’t drawn to the depictions of these people, which might have something to do with having little knowledge or interest in independent comics… not that you need to be drawn to characters to enjoy a film. But it helps. I think the underlying question at the end is: What was the purpose? If the intention was to share a man’s story, I suppose it worked, though if that’s the case I’m still not sure why this was a story worth sharing? Because he wrote comics about every day life and was a foil for Letterman and had a friend who had a brief stint as an MTV uber-nerd? This is probably still one of my favorite of Paul Giamatti’s roles, even though I can’t figure out why it resonates so soundly with me. Harvey Pekar spoke of the complexities of every day life, and maybe a window into someone else’s complex life is point enough.
3/28/2019 Man with a Movie Camera, 1929 (Rating: 4.5/5)
3/29/2019 The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1972 (Rating: 3/5)
Ever since I was a child I’ve had a dry sense of humor. One of the things I liked to do most, growing up, was toy with someone by saying something that was obviously off the wall, or at least approaching the opposite of what a normal response should be, while trying to sell it through a deadpan delivery. This continued on for far too long in my life, where I thought I was being charming and funny. I’m not sure when it happened, but maybe sometime around a year I met someone who started doing something similar to me, the only difference being that instead of saying something observably incorrect, they would say something that could actually be true. They revelled in the deceit, not the delivery. In both instances, we’re lying for the effect of humor, creating a story that might sit well with someone else, though it was primarily aimed at pleasing us, first and foremost.
As Roger Ebert wrote of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, he explained that “Dreams fold within dreams, not because the characters are confused, but because Bunuel is amusing himself by using such obvious tricks.” This film was intriguing, and I see the humor in an ambassador ducking under the table of a dinner party under siege, before jeopardizing his personal safety by giving up his whereabouts for a slice of the main course. The dinner that never arrives, once again comes to a wildly bizarre conclusion before the first bite can be savored. It’s there, and I see it, but I don’t feel it. As another reviewer writes, “It’s all simultaneously scathing and delightful, a potent combination that’s very rarely attempted and virtually never as expertly sustained as it is here.” I think this is where it misses me though: I don’t feel the delight in it. Never is this precious, and it never felt like a subpar production, but all the while this was Buñuel playing exhibitionist in a world crafted to his own sensibilities. My take isn’t meant to be a means of intellectually declining to participate in the joke, it’s a measure of just being true in saying I didn’t internalize the humor of its intention.
3/29/2019 Nostalgia, 1983 (Rating: 3.5/5)
Early in the film there’s a scene with Andrei and Eugenia debating the difficulties inherent in translating art, specifically poetry. I’m avoiding reading any analysis of Nostalgia this time through, because there will be other times to learn what this all might really mean. For now, I want to focus on the emotion. This viewing stirred that type of reaction in me. Not quite Stalker or Solaris-level emotions, but enough to give me reason for pause. Eugenia’s role as the translator and the theme of nostalgia raise questions for me. Much of Andrei’s later dialog is very much poetic, yet she seemingly translated him early on. It wasn’t long before she challenged him, in her lengthy exposition on men, over an inability to comprehend the nature of freedom. “You’re not free. You all seem to want freedom but when you get it you don’t know what to do with it or what it is.” She also claimed to not only be able to translate, but to add to the translation. To make it better. Was she correct?
There’s a gothic beauty to the settings used in this film that is reminiscent of Stalker. The deeper I got with the film, the more I feel I missed out on Mirror. Why does this resonate while that fell flat? What was it I couldn’t connect with there? The (relatively) short run time of Nostalgia helped its palatability, but there has to be more to it. Its monologues were purposeful at times and oblique at others, but by the end, where Domenico is making his statement at the demonstration, I’d bought in. “I can’t live simultaneously in my head and in my body,” he proclaims. “It’s the so-called healthy who have brought the world to the verge of ruin,” he continues. And we’re holding onto nostalgia for what, I wonder? Was another time ever really better than what we’ve got right now?
3/29/2019 The Look of Silence, 2014
Without taking anything away from The Look of Silence, its emotional effect might be reduced without having seen its sister piece, The Act of Killing, first. That documentary draws out the history of genocide in Indonesia, while this story is much more close-framed, following one man, Adi Rukun, as he and filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer interview those who were involved in the murder of Adi’s brother amidst the country’s campaign to wipe out anyone remotely suspected of being a communist. What they run into is maddening. Even when faced with super-human levels of calm, dignified presence from Adi, those who had a hand in the killing find every way possible to absolve themselves of responsibility. This includes Adi’s uncle, a prison guard who fed Adi’s brother to the death squads.
The takeaway could be a reminder of how corrupt and morally bankrupt pockets of this world are (Adi’s life was threatened during this investigation, as the party responsible for the massacre is still in charge in the country), but rather I’d like to focus on grace. It’s so simple. Hate doesn’t feed the soul. Revenge will never cure a loss. Several times throughout the film I was awestruck by Adi’s composure, his ability to remain present with his brother’s murderers even as they boldly rebuked self-evident facts depicting their culpability, and look to forgiveness as his way out of the pain. Even then, he struggled. How do you forgive a man who has no remorse? That’s one hell of a question. Yes it is.
3/30/2019 Veronica, 2017 (Rating: 2/5)
Placing Veronica among the other Paco Plaza films I’ve seen, it fits in squarely between [REC] and [REC]². I really appreciated a lot of the shots, which were both far more stylish and better constructed than what I’ve come to expect from Plaza. The effects utilized in the visualization of the supernatural presence were also really sharp. It was also a strong move to close with police scene photos from the case to help bring some gravity to the outlandishness of the story that preceded it (whether or not those photos are real doesn’t matter, does it?). While ouija-focused thrillers don’t exactly cry “peak cinema,” this is one of the better examples of the sub-genre that I’ve seen.
3/30/2019 Hardcore Henry, 2015 (Rating: 2.5/5)
After taking in a month of film replete with foreign classics, watching Hardcore Henry is sort of a strange experience. Strange in that there’s some comfort to be found in the predictability of it all. When I watch this movie, I think about some of my best friends, who I’ve watched this with. I think about growing up with action films. I think about how a lot of that has changed with time, and how they just don’t hit for me now. If ultraviolent slapstick was a thing when I was younger, I’d have gone apeshit for it. I wonder what it says that now, in my mid-thirties, this has become something akin to visual comfort food for me?
As Peter said in his review, Hardcore Henry has “some pretty gross moments of misogyny, ableism, and homophobia. Worst of all, this is probably the favorite movie of all those Gamergate terrorist fuckheads, and that fucking sucks.” I don’t pretend to have a blind spot here. But rather than go into anything that sounds like an argument against any of it, this is as fine a moment to pause and reflect as any. No matter what story I try to tell myself, I’m nothing if not inconsistent, and damned if I don’t still have questionable taste sometimes.