Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up/Capsule Reviews: #208-213


I finally put my screening log for 2013 in a document which is how I realized that my numbers have been a little off. Hence this round-up post starting at #208 as opposed to #203.

Curse of Chucky
#208. Curse of Chucky (2013, Mancini)

What I find most notable about the ‘Child’s Play‘ franchise is Don Mancini’s start-to-finish involvement. 25 years, 6 films, and Mancini has either directed, written, or co-written each of them. Here he brings nixes the meta-comedy turn the series had taken, bringing it around to a more serious dimension and that most friendly of low-budget settings; the spooky confined house. There’s quite a bit that works, including Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad!) as an assured paraplegic, a macabre scene of who-has-the-poisoned-food musical plates, the pristine design of the Cabbage Patch version of Chucky, and a last-minute cameo by Jennifer Tilly which made me clap because, duh, it’s Jennifer Tilly. The first half doesn’t have Chucky to rely on, and so it’s more involving in the way it doles out story and putting off the inevitable. Once Chucky takes over, the film isn’t capable of keeping the story it had set up on an even keel. Brad Dourif’s voicework goes a very long way, but it can’t take the film across the finish line effectively. But I commend Mancini for the intermittently successful parameters he set out for himself in an attempt to old-school up his franchise.

The Entity
#209. The Entity (1983, Lurie)

On the surface, a film about a woman who gets repeatedly raped by a ghost sounds like a more than a little exploitative take on the poltergeist trend. But this is a reductive description to what is a surprisingly raw look at post-traumatic stress and the horror of sexual violence. It’s by no means perfect; it uses assault as set-piece and distractingly postures it as the time and place for effects work to shine. But the focus is entirely on Hershey’s trauma, her psyche, and in conveying her experience of the attacks and post-attacks in a way that mostly feels like the opposite of salacious indecency. It deals with the terror of violation and the blame culture directed at women who have suffered in this way. The supernatural elements allow Hershey’s character to be seen as the root of the problem to everyone (mostly men) she opens up to. Sound familiar? There’s a nice touch in that it depicts a supportive female friendship with said friend being the first person to believe her.

This focus I describe makes The Entity very difficult to watch; it uses an abrasive score to accompany and carry through the suddenness of the attacks. We never know anything about the ghost; he is given no identity, no motive, no reasoning. This also helps broaden the scope of The Entity and I personally found the way it handled its subject matter to be more affecting and hard-hitting than most films that take on the topic.

I had major issues with the rinse-and-repeat structure and lack of forward motion within the 2-hour time frame. And yes, the last act becomes very convoluted and silly, a desperate grasp at overgrown climax and an antithetical direction from the rest of the film.

Barbara Hershey is pretty phenomenal here, giving an uncompromising performance in which she has to work through constant scenes of horror and mental anguish. To boot, she has nobody to act off of in the aforementioned pivotal scenes. The way she makes you feel her paralysis links up beautifully with the way Lurie conveys and makes us feel the anticipatory fear of violation via canted angles and a gazing dread that carefully skirts implicating the audience in atypical favor of aligning us with Hershey. These things overcome the film’s unfortunate ultimate commitment to convention and clarity.

First Name Carmen
#210. First Name: Carmen (1983, Godard)

I have a very strange and indescribable ambivalence towards Jean-Luc Godard, especially because there are a few films from him I consider favorites! I guess I’m dubious of him; that’s the only way I can think to describe it. The God-like status he has, which I recognize is for largely good reason. Radical formal innovation rendered through impossibly cool pop sensibilities and genre play will get you far (I realize that’s a reductive reading but not an entirely untruthful one). I guess I just prefer so many directors to him. And I never care much about what he’s getting at. There’s an unappealing coldness within those hip genre cages. This is coming from someone who is often attracted to ‘cold’ filmmaking. Maybe one day I’ll be able to describe it. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, right? I still find it interesting that many who love him are largely unfamiliar with his later work which make up half his career. I recently enjoyed reading an article that discussed Lincoln Center’s retrospective and the way the programming destroyed any binary notions by mixing up the former and latter eras of his career.

Anyways, there’s a lot that piqued my interest in First Name: Carmen. His reliable penchant for using sound as jarring connective at-odds-with-each-other tissue, the director’s screen presence in which he lampoons himself as a loony crone spouting philosophical, the use of the Tom Waits ballad “Ruby Arms” which gives us gorgeous shots like the one pictured above, the enticing muse that is Maruschka Detmers. But when it comes down to it, to put it ridiculously and crudely, I didn’t care enough to care. This is the way I feel about him about half the time. So it goes. I still need to see Pierrot le Fou damn it!

Tenebre
#211. Tenebre (aka Tenebrae) (1982, Argento) 

How connected is an artist to his work? Or rather, how reflective is it? Color scheme ceases to exist, this is the anti-Suspiria in that regard, as Argento strips down his world to broad daylight, whites abound, and architectural puzzle places. A white-out plane where sexual ‘deviancy’ and humiliation are laid bare, pursuing scars. All the better for red pumps to make their way around, fate trussed up. The Goblin score (or score by former members of Goblin rather) is impossibly cool moving between distorted lurking or eerie permanent lullaby. The kill scenes are far more about the the build-up than the actual death. Except that is, for the ex-wife whose murder becomes canvas art in one explosively red fell swoop. And how about that omnipotent dog?

Will John Saxon ever not be hammy? Even in a sea of dubbing and questionable acting, he hams it up. A Charles Ruggles for the 80’s. Daria Nicolodi is always such a welcome sturdy presence.

The female critic claiming sexism is portrayed stereotypically but ends up being on the money. Hmmm. And then she’s of course voyeuristically murdered. Double hmmm.

The completely over-the-top tour-de-force tracking shot best illustrates the detachment with which violence is conveyed. I far prefer Suspiria and Deep Red to this but was extremely fond of it and would take it over Opera and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. So it seems that while I don’t think giallo is really my thing, that Argento without a doubt is. He’s like a spiritual brother to Brian De Palma.

Possession Adjani
#212. Possession (1981, Zulawski)

Short Review post coming soon.

Daughters of Darkness
#213. Daughters of Darkness (1971, Kümel)

Pretty much the definition of my cup of tea. Occupies a slightly peculiar space that is neither the lesbian sexcapades nor the frightening vampire horror some may expect/want. It is instead an erotically charged mood piece that exists in the sultriness of dusk and the lost hours of the night. That it isn’t scary and is ultimately somewhat chaste may chase some off, but this is exactly the kind of Gothic psychological beaut that I am drawn towards. It’s bolstered by Delphine Seyrig whose enigmatic worldliness by way of Old Hollywood glistens throughout. Nobody; not the characters or us, can escape her orbit.

The fade-to-reds preface those of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers by a year. Daughters of Darkness has been claimed as a feminist text by some. While I don’t think Valerie ever breaks free on her own terms the way I would have liked, her arc is still one of empowerment all things considered. The film pulls the rug out from under the notion of hetero-newlywed bliss. The honeymoon is used as the time where the curtain is pulled back on who you thought your partner was. Once the deceit and abuse of the couple’s dynamic reveals itself, Valerie must choose between loyalty to her husband or to herself. Seyrig’s place in the film complicates everything for everyone and makes the film about a man and woman battling over the possession of a third woman.

Andrea Rau is impossibly luscious here. She has a proto-Wednesday Addams outfit in her Louise Brooks hairdo and I just want to be her basically.

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2 thoughts on “Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up/Capsule Reviews: #208-213

  1. Godard is such a strange case: his impact on cinema is unquestionable, yet as you say, even fans can behave as if he died in a car crash on his way to the Weekend premiere, if not the one for Breathless! I completely understand the difficulty of getting into him, and even now as a faithful convert I have my times of sheer vexation with him. But I will say—and this is not an instruction on how to watch Godard because it would be sooooo condescending—the best cinephile decision I ever made was to watch his films chronologically. I found him so cold but by going in order I could see how much his intellectual style was informed by a deeply personal connection to the material, and how each film is dictated as much by developments in his own life as in his constant aesthetic experimentation.

    The approach really pays off with his ’80s material, I think, as he basically replays his glory days—Sauve Qui Peut being an updated Breathless, Passion a new Contempt, Carmen neo-Pierrot, etc.—but the radical difference in form and focus shows, despite how abstract and experimental they can be, how much more personally invested he is, having replaced the external obsession of cinephilia with a more complex self-evaluation. And more than anything, I think that as much as Godard becomes increasingly fixated on a holistic cinema (something carried through up to Socialisme and most likely his upcoming feature), I think stylistically he grows much more intimate, into a maker of small poetic moments that exist unto themselves, like the one you screencapped. Like Joyce (and Godard is more or less cinema’s version of Joyce) I think sometimes it’s best to just let that form happen and not make your nose bleed trying to figure out what it means.

    P.S. I hate that I only seem to respond to your posts to defend someone you’re never even that negative on, just ambivalent. I think because we agree on so much and I only like to leave full comments on blogs when it’s something longer than what I could have said in a tweet. But I just want to say I’m super happy you sampled a later Godard (that puts you over quite a few people who consider themselves far more fans of his than you) and I hope a few more films of his click along with the ones you consider favorites before it’s all said and done.

    I also can’t WAIT to read your thoughts on Possession. Great, great, great film.

    1. I always appreciate your input Jake. And I thank you for the comment! Don’t worry about only defending films in the comments. It always comes from a place of offering alternate insight or your takeaway as opposed to ‘you’re wrong and here’s why’ and that’s what matters! It’s good to get your thoughts on it especially since I know you’ve studied and written on his work so thoroughly. I hope one day I can find him less cold or at least gain a fuller understanding of him. I have a hard time with quite a few of the more esoteric films (I’m talking about in general now) and it can be hard to write about them because it’s rarely a case of ‘this is a bad film’ (since I don’t feel I have the capacity to discern that, let alone make a case for it) and more it isn’t my thing, I couldn’t connect with it, I couldn’t get interested, I got nothing out of it, etc. And I have a really hard time putting those cases into words that simply don’t line up with my taste. So I try and steer it in the direction of ‘OK what did I get out of this’ and ‘what about it specifically left me wanting’. So even though I couldn’t get into this one I’m really glad I saw it and I’ll definitely keep the chronology tip in mind for the future! And the Joyce comparison is spot-on! As is the car crash observation because YES. It’s crazy how so many seem to outright pretend that he only had one decade of filmmaking! All in all I’ve got plenty more to see from him over the years and some stuff to re-watch. I also think part of it is that I have to be in the mood for him. When I watched A Woman is a Woman for the first time last year I liked quite a bit of it but I also felt really annoyed with it as crass as that sounds. So part of it is a mood thing.

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