Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #120-124


A Tale of Winter
#120. A Tale of Winter (1992, Rohmer)

Roger Ebert¬†astutely stated that A Tale of Winter “is not a love triangle because the person she (Felicie)¬†loves isn’t there”. This is only my second Eric Rohmer film (the first being Pauline at the Beach). True to form, love and choices are dissected and philopshized. Words are used to withhold and dangle the future, a tether with which Felicie (Charlotte V√©ry) keeps two men in her orbit knowing (as do the men; Felicie is forthright to a fault) they are just¬†placeholders for the long lost Charles. Maxence (Michel Voletti) and Loic (Herv√© Furic) aren’t characters in their own right; they are to us¬†as they are to Felicie — distractions. She puts all of her hopes and dreams into the idea of another man, a man she knew but briefly, their connection broken off by a silly address fluke. In the meantime (the meantime taking up most of the film), besides her¬†unbreakable certainty she will be with Charles again,¬†she is defined by her borderline manipulative use of¬†indecision.

The bright topless summer fling of the start gives way to a five-years-later heavy-coated winter. Felicie is periodically shown entering and exiting places, the routine of her days shown for the¬†chance present in comings and goings. And lo and behold! A happy ending! Of course, we have no idea what comes next for Felicie and Charles, but it’s a romantic close, full of hope and potential. At the very least, we are given access to the start¬†of their fanciful reunion. The way everything quickly falls into place is enchanting instead of a cheat.

I use the word enchanting for a reason. There’s another 1992 film, which will be covered in my next capsule review post, that also closes with the picture perfect erasure of conflict and emergence of relationship kismet. This one sells it. The other one, I ain’t buying.

bittermoon
#121. Bitter Moon (1992, Polanski)

Perverse, deeply ugly, and comically absurd; I loved it. At first glance Bitter Moon is just another to emerge out of the trashy kink, boundary pushing erotic thriller trend of the early-to-mid 90’s. But this is Roman Polanski, and the man has got a lot of poisonous and revealing fish to fry. Hiding behind camp and pig masks, this could be his most uncomfortably personal work. At the very least it feels like a purging. The sex relates to the endless potential of corruptible dynamics. Two couples out to sea on an ocean liner (Knife in the Water anyone?), one staid, the other extreme, have more in common than they think. Peter Coyote and Emmanuelle Seigner are the purist form of masochistic and manipulative chess game toxicity that can exist in a couple, a toxicity that Polanski posits exists on some level in all of us.

We’re trapped¬†with the male perspective in each couple. Oscar (Coyote) is the classic unreliable narrator, a scumbag spouting the purple prose of failed authordom. He uses self-loathing as a catch-all excuse for his actions. His hesitant listener is Hugh¬†Grant, who basically¬†does a parody of his bumbling Brit. I’m not quite sure why Kristen Scott Thomas’s Fiona is consistently labeled by viewers as cold. Yes, she’s reserved. But cold? No. Is it because we’re stuck in the masculine? Is it¬†because of¬†audience expectations of her? Or a recognition of what we’re meant to be thinking? In that case, I’d say the film is cold towards her. As it is, the Brits are used as props to make a point¬†about the destructive dependencies of human nature.

The structure, framing device aside, is marked into three shifts (making four total sections) between the dominant and submissive. Sexual games become a prelude for everyday power plays. Nigel (Grant)¬†is disgusted by Oscar’s sordid tale, but he keeps coming back. And we’re revolted as well, first by the shameless ecstasy Oscar projects onto Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner), and then the bottomless pit of constant public degradation that¬†transfoms poor Mimi, and is then reversed as¬†she has her revenge; a revenge in which she’s still fated to him, locked in for life. The entire thing is a cruel joke on Nigel. Making each other miserable for kicks, enforcing dependency has run dry. So they turn it outwards.

On the one hand, Seigner (Polanski’s real life wife) isn’t very good,¬†but the physical moments in her performance, gyrations and hair tossing, are incredibly effective in their¬†lithe¬†animalism. Yet what she lacks in acting abilities (at least in English) ushers in a sense of fragility,¬†followed by¬†blankness, which suits the character well. Oscar is a pig, in more ways than one. He describes Mimi as being all about sex, but he’s really describing himself. She is ultimately a cipher because he is pitifully limited in his view of her. “It’s no fun hurting someone who means nothing to you” is the defining piece of dialogue. It’s nasty and unapologetically honest.

The camera rocks and sways while on the boat with our teetering and destructive characters. At first it seems like a corny way of evoking ‘at sea’, but it coats the framing device with a somethings-gotta-give vibe, the woozy threat of a tipping point.

A big question, especially considering it’s what turned so many off at the time of its release; how much control does Polanski have over Bitter Moon’s tonal makeup? It’s a risky piece of work, less from content, and more out of an unequivocally bizarre sense of self. Is this a joke? Are we in on it? Is Polanski in on it? Does it obstruct viewers from seeing the unpleasantly complicated treaty at the center, or does it enable? Is this the only way to present something so dire and hopeless? I see Polanski as having far more control than he was at first credited with. Seigner pouring milk all over her breasts, looking like a zombie by the way, as Peter Coyote licks it off with George Michael’s “Faith” in the background is unequivocal evidence Polanski means Bitter Moon to be a kind of brazenly sadistic circus. These other 90’s erotic thrillers took themselves so seriously, so it must have been unmanageably jarring to see a film that at once did not take itself as seriously, yet contains twisted barbs of resonance.

It’s The Little Things:
– This is the 3rd 1992 film I watched in a short period of time to be centered around/lead up to New Year’s Eve. The other two were Peter’s Friends and A Tale of Winter.
– “Anything you can do I can do better”
– Seeing Bitter Moon now ended up being perfect timing for me re: the release of Venus in Fur.
– That dance between Seigner and Scott Thomas.
– When you think back, the first time Mimi meets Fiona and Nigel says a lot, as it’s not through Oscar’s perspective

The Missing Picture

#122. The Missing Picture (2014, Panh)
Free-floating memoir documentary about the discrepancies and overlap of personal experience, how an individual recalls being subject to history (in this case the unimaginable Khmer Rouge), and how events were presented by those in command at the time. The former is presented through clay figurines and narration. The frozen and expressively hollow faces, and their immobility, evoke a devastation so great that only something as simplistic as clay can hope to capture it. The latter comes in the form of archival propaganda footage from Cambodia, presenting the Communist Party of Kampuchea as an agrarian utopia. Emotional and apt, but it eventually felt like a reconciliation with no place for me as a viewer, if that makes sense.

The Immigrant
#123. The Immigrant (2014, Gray)
Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/review-the-immigrant-2014-gray/

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#124. Mystery Train (1989, Jarmusch)

Without a doubt my favorite vignette film by Jim Jarmusch as he continued to comfortably and safely play with his career focuses like happenstance, multiculturalism, the slight threat of melancholy by way of disappointment, meandering, lots of smoking, and hip tranquility. And of course capturing the lived-in spirit of a specific city or location, finding identity in the ignored details, and a central focus on music. My favorite vignette is the first one, that of the opposites attract Japanese tourists (Masatoshi Nagase exudes cool to the point of catatonia) who wander aimlessly through Memphis in their idolization of Elvis and Carl Perkins.

Actually, scratch that. My favorite is anything involving Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Cinqu√© Lee, The Arcade Hotel staff stuck in time, and witness to all. The eating of the Japanese plum is a perfect moment, perfect in how unexpected it is. I was unreasonably excited every time the film checks in on them.

There’s not a lot to chew on in Mystery Train, but that’s precisely what makes it so enticing. As characters pass through this narrow area of blocks, it feels like anything could happen. That Tom Noonan’s story could be true. That Luisa really does see the ghost of Elvis. That there could be something connecting Elvis, Madonna, and the Statue of Liberty. That sense of possibility isn’t like a jolt of energy. More the opposite. We watch with hypnotic nonchalance, taking in the glum humor, ever-so-anxiously awaiting Tom Waits’s DJ Lee Baby Sims to usher in Elvis’s rendition of “Blue Moon”.

It’s the Little Things:
– Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s flashy red threads
– Robby Muller’s cinematography which slightly recalls the radiating neons of The American Friend
– Masatoshi lighting his cigarette and throwing his lighter up in the air, catching it in his shirt pocket

Review: The Immigrant (2014, Gray)


The Immigrant

IMDB summary: In 1921, unfortunate circumstances drive newly arrived immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) into a life of prostitution, and a complex, volatile relationship with two men – her conflicted pimp and his romantic cousin.

As I work my way through my 1992 watchlist for an upcoming Top Ten By Year column entry, it seemed a doable side project to finally watch the increasingly lauded work of classicist James Gray. I still have to see We Own the Night (which I’ll be watching tonight) and Two Lovers, but with Little Odessa, The Yards and The Immigrant, the latter two make Gray well on his way to being one of my favorite working filmmakers.

Some stories are familiar for a reason. James Gray posits this with regularity. Unfashionably leaning on lush (but not, critically, romanticized or glossy) classicism that seems to either envelop the viewer or leave them cold (depending on your predilections), Gray focuses on the precise juxtaposition of operatic scope against intimate human struggles (or more precisely, the latter cradling within the former), largely of the criminal and familial. His films are about what goes on in the confined living spaces of down-and-out working class New York. Again, I can only speak to the three Gray films I’ve seen but there are so many similarities between them in both structure and focus. All three begin with an arrival and end with a departure. The protagonist makes it through, but everyone else is fair game. Joaquin Phoenix’s simmering penchant¬†for producing hidden layers of agonized and doomed empathy are capitalized, casting him in roles that position him as a dubious obstacle, revealed as someone¬†riddled with complexity on top of complexity. Accidental deaths abound. Familial connections increase the tautness. Critically, each James Gray film is near-obsessed with the act of choice.

The Immigrant is a constant balancing act. Shots often walk right up to the tip of overtness. The final image, for example, is on the fence of that line; obvious but packing a majestic wallop of visually splintered destinies — parting, but forever connected. Darius Khondji reconstructs the rich haze of period films, but steps back from gloss. The feeling that someone can slip through the cracks and fog is easily within reach, the lower class a world all its own. The aforementioned familiarity plumbs the depths of clarity and oft depicted material, but is also used to narratively veer ever-so-left or right. Characters we think we’ve got pegged (‘hey I recognize that type; the wayward prostitute, the pimp with a temper, the knight in shining armor’), we don’t, but not in acts of narrative subversion. The familiarity of ‘types’ merely allows Gray to pull back the layers, reveal them as human beings stuck in a system. Against each other, yet mutually dependent in their low placement on the totem pole.

Money makes the world go round and money haunts The Immigrant. It enables corruption and loopholes. One can get around the system by knowing the right people. People can exploit the system in order to exploit others. We see the hierarchy and importance of power and respect taking shape, and everyone finding their place within it. Connections are made out of desperation. Any choice you make is a chance taken, and people stay in bad situations largely because they don’t want to risk tripping into something even worse. A fellow prostitute warns Ewa of this while talking about Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). For what it’s worth (at once nothing and everything), once they are under his wing Bruno treats the women quite well, all things considered. They’re like a makeshift family. The point the fellow prostitute makes to Ewa is that trust equals risk, and it’s always a risk. Nothing is what it seems. You have no idea who people really are, especially being a woman in predatory 1920s New York looking to make a place for herself.

Confined spaces are used to create insular environments in a way that oddly recalls the “Other World” from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. For Ewa, and us, it feels like nothing exists outside her immediate purview. Attempts to get out lead you back to where you just came from, only a little more hopeless. She is falsely informed that her aunt and uncle do not want her. She is bucked at every turn; only Bruno comes to her aid. Her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) might as well be in another dimension. Ewa is onto this, but awareness does not equal much in mileage.

The living spaces hum with the imprint of personal remembrance. The Immigrant feels big, but look again. It all takes place in the spaces. Even when Bruno and the women are turned out, they set up shop in a park tunnel. We so urgently feel the fact of having nowhere else to go. When she ‘escapes’ from Bruno, it’s like she’s emerged from the rabbit hole. She’s out, but what now? Experiencing Ewa’s obstructed view of New York makes us feel the direness of choice, whether an illusion or lack thereof. It all comes back to choice.

There is the urge to trust. Jeremy Renner’s Magician with the Masked Charm Emil is seemingly an out, or at the very least a hunky ally. He’s more stable than Bruno and reeks of agreeable entreaties. Bruno’s act on the other hand is transparent from the get-go. And look at the situation he’s got her in. There have been lies and deception at every turn. Yet there’s unmistakable loyalty, and hey, at least he turns his boiling anger inward. But Gray sets up expectation only to bring in complications, not of plot but of character. Emil’s got a great act going for him but there’s a loose thread in all the sheen and eyeliner. He uses Ewa not once, but twice, to make a point, putting her in the middle of incredibly fraught situations. The Immigrant is half-marketed (if you can even say half, considering how disgracefully Harvey Weinstein punted this into a handful of theaters) as a love triangle, but that’s not really the case at all. Yearnings are used as a backdrop. Ewa, in the midst of her conflicts, has her eyes solely on reclaiming her sister. She’s far more worried about the Catholic guilt of her supposed sins, and whether attempted dignity or survival is a justified stance, then these two men.

The Immigrant is an intimate spectacle, and the three powerhouse performances all serve the aching grandness of the story; Cotillard with her steely resolve and the plight of woman shone through her impossibly expressive face, Phoenix with his agonizing journey of inner conflict and full-Brando moments, and Renner with his ambiguous reappearing act. James Gray is so finely tuned into his actors, into the immediate environment of the characters, and with the strength and weakness of familial bonds amidst dire circumstances. It’s classical without being pastiche, grim without being miserablist (and furthermore with concrete glimmers of hope). In my capsule review of The Yards, I stated that everything carries weight, and that the story, and the people within it, matter. It’s a rare gift of a quality, and it’s looking more and more like a sense of intimate magnitude is James Gray’s greatest strength in a sea of them.

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #115-119


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#115. Universal Soldier (1992, Emmerich) (US)

Any film with opening credits that superimpose the names of its two action stars over said action stars being zipped up in body bags has got my vote. There may have been a more streamlined way of saying that, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out.

Diverting in its liveliness and earnestly serious absurdities. Having Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play machines effectively lifts the acting duties off their strapping shoulders, allowing the conceit to play into their limitations. But Van Damme has, make no mistake, seriously intuitive comic timing. He’s like a sad and unassuming lost child here, and it is peachy keen delightful to witness. I can honestly say that Van Damme is the only one from the streak of hyper-muscular action stars to come out of the late 80’s to early 90’s that I¬†find myself crushing on. Dude’s hot.

Cat-and-mouse pattern; Lundgren catches up to Van Damme, and a small business gets obliterated in the ensuing mayhem leaving the country folk perplexed, but not without a zinger or two. Rinse, repeat; it gets tiresome. Universal Soldier outstays its welcome with that formula, but restores itself to badassery with a rousing rain-soaked finale full of methodically precise and concentrated bludgeons.

This was Roland Emmerich’s first major project, replacing director Andrew Davis. He uses the widescreen aspect ratio like he’s known it his whole life. The icy blues of the controlled laboratory are contrasted with the real world reds and yellows of the desert environment. Ally Walker’s wired yet casual chain-smoking reporter is exhausting. She throws herself into the role as best she can, but that admirable commitment only makes Veronica more difficult to bear.

What better way to end a capsule review than to¬†plug the fact that there’s a healthy helping of Van Damme’s derriere? You can thank me later.

It’s the Little Things:
-Soooo, based on the buzz, it looks like I should see Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, huh?

The Yards 1
#116. The Yards (2000, Gray)
(US)
So I liked this so much more than Little Odessa. A return to the dual resurgence of the familial and the criminal, and within that the return of a son to those he left behind. It’s about loyalties, the past informing the present; you know the drill. The kind of intimate and heavy mid-tier crime drama that would be in fashion for 70’s American cinema but in 2000 grabbed nobody’s attention. And it’s a shame, because what a piece of work.

Everything carries a palpable weight to it, the precision of story and performance locking it all into place, making everything matter. Everyone speaks in hushed tones, the interpersonal and criminal given the same importance, one and the same. The first act, a welcome home party for the recently paroled Leo (Mark Wahlberg) should be taught in screenwriting classes. Everything is brilliantly set up with all the major characters, outside of the absent but integral Frank (James Caan), accounted for.

My favorite performances from Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, I Heart Huckabees, and now The Yards) showcase his brand of underutilized vulnerability. His Leo is observant and hesitant, one foot always in or out the door. Joaquin Phoenix makes the potentially unsympathetic Willie not only sympathetic, but kind of heartbreaking. His arc is felt every step the downhill way. Phoenix makes us feel it all slip away from him, with the inevitability of his foibles in tow, as if in slow-motion.

Can we talk about the late great Harris Savides for a second? Because this is exquisitely photographed, shot in golden musk. The scenario at hand is literally made to weigh down on these people in shadows. A sequence that sticks out for its divergence from the rest of the film is the big picture tussle between Leo and Willie midway through. Inspired by Rocco and his Brothers, we step back, as if a neighbor watching it all unfold from across the street. We’re normally so close to these characters, but in this moment we’re allowed to take in the physicality of this fight, messy and whole. All-in masculine energy.

It’s the Little Things:
This is the most attracted I’ve ever been to Charlize Theron. And that’s saying something.

cold-in-july-movie1
#117. Cold in July (2014, Mickle) (US)

Set up as a ‘meek’ (read: average) man-out-of-his-depth period slice of Americana crime horror. Sprints through a feature length of story in 30 minutes, daring us to ask ‘where do we go from here?’ The first 30 feels very much like a Cape Fear kind of story. Stalking, lurking revenge, and the ever-threatened home. And then suddenly it seems like Cold in July is gearing up for its finale. So again; where is all this going? Well, somewhere quite different from the beginning.

We first see Michael C. Hall’s (who I’m so so so glad to see in something not called “Dexter”) Richard sweatily defending his home from a burglar, and with an itchy trigger finger to boot. By the end he’s walking into a building with intent to kill, turned vigilante. I don’t want to say anything more, because one of the joys of Cold in July is moseying along with its directional shifts. Suffice it to say, Richard ends up in the literal back seat of what was at one point his story, hijacked by the more prominent and potent concerns of Sam Shepard’s Russel.

I love the way these three men (the other being swaggering Don Johnson) are cobbled together in an unlikely, weirdly lovable partnership, and a difficult situation. Even though the vigilantism supports Hall’s new-found manly energy, sustained by feeding off the presence of Shepard and Johnson, as solution to all (something that needed to be fixed apparently), in a supposition too old hat to hit.

The oversimplified dialogue in its climactic scene, and the way it plays, is genuinely moving, pushing against the destination of processed violence (though Jim Mickle always finds creative ways to keep the final act creative and edgy, even in its more overly drawn-out moments). Any sluggishness or dead end syndrome is offset by Mickle’s bravura behind the camera, and the varied trifecta of lead performances, most impressively Sam Shepard and his perpetually cocked head.

It’s the Little Things:
– I’ll sign a petition if it means Vinessa Shaw gets to stop playing thankless roles. As per usual, the wife is just sort of there. And then not.

A Heart in Winter
#118. A Heart in Winter (Un coeur en hiver)
(1992, Sautet) (France)
Both 1992 French films with ‘Winter’ in the title (the other being Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter which I’ll cover in my next post) depict love triangles with a twist. Effectively deployed one-time-only voiceover narration (something that tends not to work) at the start informs us that St√©phane (Daniel Auteuil) defines himself by his boss Maxime’s (Andr√© Dussollier) daily grind. It’s factual and routine. Maxime considers St√©phane a close friend, but the definition isn’t mutual. It’s not anything Maxime has done. St√©phane just doesn’t consider anyone his friend. He cannot, or will not, form self-defined personal connections with others even though he clearly has a rapport of some kind with several. Is he denying himself investment as a protective shield, or is he just missing warmth and the ability to truly connect?

Whichever it is, it has lent¬†St√©phane a permanent air of superiority, above such trivialities as human connection or even having opinions in philosophical or political conversation. He goes about intellectually seducing Maxime’s new girlfriend, violinist Camille (Emmanuelle B√©art), just because, or maybe because he’s unwilling to admit he’s drawn to her. So you have a very familiar illicit scenario but with an unusual player at its center, skewing all expected developments. This is first and foremost a character study about St√©phane and his reliable inability to change. He’s cruel in how far he takes his anthropological curiosities. He shows more of an intimacy with the inanimate violins he lovingly repairs.

Music is at the center, Ravel’s specifically, and several scenes of Camille playing show her intimacy with the violin (which is the shared bridge between the two) as she carries out its lyrical potential, a potential only possible because St√©phane has fixed the instrument for her. B√©art, in what has got to be the only time she ever has or will have to be on the other side of an unrequited love, is magnificent, understandably tormented and confused, always achingly human. A complex film that goes into the answerable qualities and inadequacies of ourselves.

Peter's Friends
#119. Peter’s Friends (1992, Branagh) (UK)

Enjoyable even though it’s aggressively uneven and rote. Stephen Fry is always such an unbridled joy to watch. But we all knew this already. His Peter wears his heart on his sleeve as a distraction for his motivated guardedness. He watches as a happy reunion turns ends up holding critical moments for each former college buddy. Some are able to turn the curve, some, well, TBA. Very hopeful, in ways largely unearned (although I really liked the Hugh Laurie/Imelda Staunton story who sell an unrealistic marital shift wholesale). Carol (co-writer Rita Rudner) and Brian (Tony Slattery), significant others of Andrew (Branagh) and Sarah (Alphonsia Emmanuel), stretch broadness to the limits. Though Carol is allowed a nice scene with Maggie (Emma Thompson), the film can’t wait to dispatch of them, leaving us with the core group of six. Most of Peter’s Friends falls somewhere between a sitcom and bittersweet dramedy, not particularly succeeding in either. Branagh is too go-to on the long takes; sometimes it works, other times it’s lazy.

Emma Thompson’s character disappointingly undergoes the Ally Sheedy Treatment, in that she ceases to be a character once she’s had her makeover.

Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #110-114


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#110. Lessons of Darkness (1992, Herzog) 
Scours the oil-soaked rubble and landscapes of post-Gulf War Kuwait. Werner Herzog purposely avoids giving any context, only droplets of human tragedy in the traumatic aftermath of war. By removing context, the film feels eerie and otherwordly. Is this really our world? Yes, it is.

Doctor mordrid 4

#111. Doctor Mordrid (1992, Band)
After having seen this (and a few others in years past) I kind of just want to have a Full Moon Features marathon. Their¬†output is¬†indicative of the VHS era and the sudden surplus of low-budget direct-to-video genre films that emerged out of an analog¬†market. With¬†Doctor Mordrid, the¬†main draw for was actor-I’ll-watch-in-anything Jeffrey Combs, and an accompanying recommendation from ever-reliable friend¬†Alex Kittle. Combs has a dry and overenunciated style of acting, as if inadvertently seducing the person (or air; you know, whatever’s there) in front of him. Surprisingly fun and¬†silly beyond belief (so, pretty much, what you’d expect), with Combs in a blue jumpsuit,¬†stop-motion dinosaurs, adroit set design, and music that sounds like it came out of an episode of “Wishbone”! Originally supposed to be a Doctor Strange film (and hey, look, one is in the works now) but the option expired before production could begin. It’s a misleading concoction, mostly feigning¬†‘PG’ levels of tame and then throwing in random nudity and swearing in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intervals.

Vyette Nadir is far¬†more relatable, capable, and¬†likable than she needs to be. I have a special fondness and familiarity with her from the Full House episode “Happy New Year”. ¬†And even though she and Combs have zero chemistry, I adore both so much that I was somehow still invested in them. Like, this movie is oddly cute. And as if all of this weren’t enough, there’s a Satanist that looks exactly like a greasy Andrew Garfield!

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#112. Tom at the Farm (2014, Dolan) 
http://criterioncast.com/reviews/theatrical/catherine-reviews-xavier-dolans-tom-at-the-farm-ct-lgbt-film-festival-2014/

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#113. Oculus (2014, Flanagan)
The evil mirror in Oculus (can we have more evil mirror movies please?) is a narrative carte blanche. The object spreads out influence and can get inside your head,¬†fiddling with everything you thought you knew.¬†That Oculus is somehow able to keep the debilitating effects of childhood trauma relevant despite (though it doesn’t change the existence¬†of trauma), the affirmation of the supernatural, is not only unexpected, but damn impressive. It plays out in two parallel storylines, the past and present, and there is increasing fluidity between the two. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan plays with our knowledge of how the past thread turns out in order to impact the present. The past plays out like a homier version of The Shining that sees itself through. Instead of the¬†Overlook Hotel, it’s the coal black antique above.

There is a ton of exposition, but it goes over smoothly because it is used to simultaneously highlight Kaylie’s (Karen Gillian in a marvelous turn) obsessiveness and unhinged leanings. Having to deal with family tragedy on her own has¬†made this moment, not the processing and therapeutic recovery Tim (Brenton Thwaites) has undergone, what everything in her life has led up to. What makes Oculus scary is that anything seems possible, and the characters (and therefore us) become unable to trust their own eyes, experiences, or surroundings. Though it relies too heavily towards the end on spooky glowy-eyed specters, there’s a weight to how Kaylie and Tim’s childhood have shaped their separate paths¬†that makes everything matter. ¬†This isn’t ‘we may be through with the past but the past ain’t through with us’, it’s ‘we’re not through with the past and guess what, the past ain’t through with us anyways’.

It’s the Little Things:
– The light bulb scene and the band-aid scene. Shivers.
– I love that first shot of Gillian, the camera behind her as her red ponytail sways back and forth.
РThe girl who played younger Kaylie (Annalise Basso) is so good. The boy, eh.
РKatee Sackhoff everybody. Just a reminder she should be in everything.

raising cain

#114. Raising Cain (1992, De Palma)
Wacky as fuck and¬†clownishly bonkers in its lopsided Hitchcock homage. The lifts from the master of suspense are even more overt than normal for De Palma, basically¬†parodic. But then, pretty much everything about Raising Cain feels parodic, like a page out of Raimi, and not necessarily in the best way. Gets to it immediately, switching gears every twenty minutes or so. John Lithgow, in five different roles, camps it up for every one of them¬†(does he mean to?). As forceful as De Palma’s self-awareness is, everything ends up feeling like an outlandish construct in which to hold Lithgow’s scenery-chewing, even though we know it is¬†in fact the other way around. And that really hurts the film. Watching Lithgow have at it might be entertaining for some, but eh, I’ve never gotten that thrill from watching him.

Far more engaging is Lolita Davidovich’s tale of spousal resilience and rekindling love with the adorable Steven Bauer. Apparently De Palma originally intended Davodovich’s¬†Jenny to control the narrative at the start. One day I’ll catch that alternate cut. There are some truly inspired ‘De Palma!’ moments, like the multi-level multi-object finale, and a long scene of Psycho-esque usually-stationary exposition transformed into a long take that spans¬†stairs, turns, elevators, and Gregg Henry repeatedly¬†putting the speaking-and-veering¬†Frances Sternhagen on course correction (in some ways, the film is like Sternhagen in this scene). There’s also a recurring focus on surveillance. Raising Cain may be a DOA narrative¬†loop-de-loop, even within its own world,¬†but at least there’s an unhinged screw-it-I’m-just-going-for-it commitment. You’re never going to hear me complain too much about De Palma going up his own ass.

¬†It’s the Little Things:
– Have I mentioned Steven Bauer and how adorable he is in this?
– The story of Bauer and Davidovich is hilarious because they are both good-hearted people, yet they kiss in front of his dying wife’s hospital bed!