Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #11-15


2013 lists will begin tomorrow. Usually I have several more than what I’m doing this year, but I’ve realized the difficulty of pulling this stuff together at the end instead of keeping track of individual elements as the year progresses. So no posters or song usages this year, although I’ll have my 5 favorites in the top fives post. They just won’t be getting individual posts. I like to be exhaustive but it’s also exhaus-ting to get everything up, with explanation, especially after everyone has already moved on from the year. So I’ll have my Top Fives of 2013, 25 Memorable Performances (unordered with three-word adjective sets), my What I’ll Remember About the Films of 2013: A Personal Sampling (something I started last year and absolutely loved doing) and of course my Top 30 Films of 2013 split into two posts.

The Selfish Giant
#11. The Selfish Giant (2013, Barnard) (UK)
Clio Barnard’s second film, an outgrowth of and companion piece to her first film (the experimental documentary The Arbor), continues to explore life in Bradford where post-industrial environments harbors dire below-the-line living conditions. It also confirms her as a new voice in British cinema. The miserablism is supported and justified through catharsis and a respect for peoples ability to just buoy themselves forward, if not upward, by the skin of their teeth. And there is an appreciation for just how hard it can be to buoy forward. Its social consciousness is rooted in drudgery specific to the area where the hum of electricity, and fate, loom over the characters. We see how and why kids would take part in the illegal and lucrative scrap-dealing world as an immediate answer and sole misguided carrier of hope. These choices are borne solely from a deep desire to keep their family going just a little longer. To take away an ounce of the stress from their parents. The mothers, united in struggle, try to sway their kids in the direction of good using words, desperation and empty pleas of ‘you need an education’.

Arbor (Conner Chapman) is skittish; a loose cannon. His friendship with Swifty (Shaun Thomas) is one of mutual dependency. They connect through shared experience, through the hardship of environment. Arbor’s reluctance towards Kitten (Sean Gilder) only appears because he can see that Swifty has become more useful to Kitten. It’s not hard to tell which direction the film is headed. But it happens so suddenly without build-up, without pomp. This is a hankie movie everyone. Big. Time. Hankie Movie.

The catharsis and release that comes at the end, after a period of unerring focus and shock, is sort of soul-shattering. And it illustrates why the film works so well. It often seems hopeless, and there is little good depicted in this world, but The Selfish Giant is punctuated with moments where compassion is a form of exchange between two people. Barnard is also thankfully far more interested in the daily existence, of seeing Arbor and Swifty in their natural habitats than in point-to-point storytelling. I’m absolutely struck by the work of the two lead children, both non-actors who came from the area. Falls in line with British social realism films of yesteryear. Hopeless yet humanistic. Powerful but not plodding.

Who Killed Teddy bear
#12. Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965, Cates) (USA)
Hits all my check boxes for cult curios with a rare kind of verve. When it was recommended (only by one individual who I’m grateful for) while doing my 1965 research, it piqued my interest more than any other film on my to-watch list. It revels in its simple ‘Peeping Tom’ plot and is largely made up of the threat of transgression and threatening-to-boil-over sexual energy. The body is constantly eroticized; male and female alike in the forms of Sal Mineo and Juliet Prowse.

The location footage captures Times Square and Manhattan as peep show haven. A place you can stroll to your crotch’s desire. All proto-Taxi Driver comparisons are apt. Mineo seethes with self-hate, both at his unquenchable thirst and an inability to separate himself from what he sees as the gutter. It’s too preoccupied with deviancy to function as an on-the-level release at the time. It’s also too much of a rehash story to be truly outre. So it lies between with its underground renegade spirit and endless streaks of art-sleaze stopping by way of kitsch.

You’ve got Sal Mineo with his chiseled bod, and a perfectly repressed performance, complete with gym workout montage! There’s Juliet Prowse whose is so engaging and gorgeous; I wish her career had steered more towards film. There’s Elaine Stritch as a lesbian discotheque manager! Three guesses what happens to her. There’s a detective obsessed with fetishists whose daughter is stuck overhearing victim’s detailed case interviews and being surrounded by smutty mags lying around the apartment. Outdated in its hilarious blanket definition of ‘perverse’ and yet progressive in its voyeuristic fixation on and acknowledgment of different types of sexuality and urges (both healthy and harmful) that society largely ignored(s).

Comes complete with an almost too-catchy title song and contains quite possibly the greatest scene in the history of film. Oh yes. I’m talking about the Sal Mineo/Juliet Prowse dancing scene. I already have such a lasting fondness for Who Killed Teddy Bear.

The War Game
#13. The War Game (1965, Watkins) (UK)
An objectively incredible and terrifying showcase of juxtaposition. Pits the indifference and ignorance of British citizens regarding the real possibility of nuclear warfare against the depiction of hypothetical scenarios backed by actual research, scientific facts, and reports. Pits the coldness of distanced narration against sudden irrevocable mass scale human suffering. In this way it is like the opening minutes of Barefoot Gen sustained through an entire ‘documentary’. Doc elements bleed into historical forecasting. Basically depicts my worst fear in stark unrelenting terms. Contains a confrontational energy that drolly begs people to see how close we are to widespread annihilation. Cold War context notwithstanding, it rings awful true to this day.

Bad Girls go to Hell
#14. Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965, Wishman) (USA)
Apparent high-water mark for Doris Wishman, female sexploitation director, who is often referred to as a kind of Ed Wood counterpart. This is one of her ‘roughies’ after years of ‘nudie-cuties’. She doesn’t seem to have any feminist agenda (and far as I can see she denied this), though I say the mere fact of her existence in this industry inadvertently has a feminist streak to it. I didn’t see the last 20 minutes because youtube’s video cut off (something I didn’t realize when I started) so I can only comment on what I’ve seen. There’s an undeniable charm to its haphazard DIY clumsiness. The evenly thread upbeat stock music, the random cuts to objects around the room, the dubbing due to having to use silent film stock. Winsome but also appropriately nasty and half-formed. Yet look at that shot above. There’s something there.

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#15. The Party’s Over (1965, Hamilton) (UK)
Full review coming soon

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