Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #131-137

Hello everyone! Sorry it has been quite a while since I last posted. I go through spurts of writing a lot and then corresponding ebbs. I’ve shifted my focus a bit to reading and trying to learn some German so films have taken a backseat as of late. Plus, in effort to save some money I’ve cut back on certain monthly expenses. Meaning no more Hulu Plus and only Netflix streaming for me. But I’ll certainly keep up with some viewings and posting output. For one thing, I plan on participating in next week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot for Mary Poppins.


#131. Berberian Sound Studio (2013, Strickland)

A meticulous tribute to giallo and the inextricable subconscious effect that sound contributes to the moving image. It’s made for a very narrow but appreciative audience and is more of a fascinating academic-like exercise that I primarily admired. I’ve gotten much more interested in the role of sound in film this past year so it is a treat to see something that uses this crucial but often underappreciated and little understood aspect of filmmaking as its almost essay-like focus. Isolation and cultural dislocation lead the way with Toby Jones as Gilderoy. He might as well be trapped in the sound studio.. The setting plays like a psychological prison and Strickland explores the power of sound through its surrounding inescapable nature. Visuals are something we can look away from. Sound has the capacity to drown us, drive us into dismantling states.

We never see the film Gilderoy is working on, titled The Equestrian Vortex, but we hear a great deal of it. As everyday objects are used to fill in our imaginative aural gaps, the film builds up a jarringly uncomfortable atmosphere. No blood is shed, no violence seen. But watermelons and the like suddenly have squeamish associative power, made all the more complex through its effect on Gilderoy who becomes uncomfortably complicit in helping create horror by indirectly taking part in it. The film-within-a-film seems to be an extension of how the beautiful but mistreated women in the studio inhibit the space. It may not seem like a lot happens in Berberian Sound Studio, because to be sure this is true, and yet its purpose is clearly multi-layered.

Random Observations:
Interesting that we the audience get an advantage over Gilderoy re: subtitles for spoken Italian while Gilderoy has an additional disadvantage over us re: he is seeing both the footage and the sound of The Equestrian Vortex while we only hear the audio.


#132. Antonio Gaudi (1985, Teshigahara)

Putting another layer of artistic endeavor between us and the fantastical undulating work of Antonio Gaudi, Teshigahara’s near-wordless documentary is like a poetic context; the gift of heightened consideration. The way his work is shot runs the gamut, from close-ups where detail is abstracted to far away in order to place his creations within the context of Barcelona. What about this angle; or this angle? How to best extrapolate the ever-changing notions of his shapes and constructs? The camera considers his work from every angle, caresses the curves and even considers the world outside as his buildings would hypothetically see them as sentient beings, thereby treating them as such. This film was also a big influence on my decision to save up and travel to Barcelona for a week this November.

#133. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987, Hara)

From the moment a wedding celebration becomes an awkward self-indulgent confessional moment of radicalism as Kenzo Okuzaki denigrates the concept of family and drops reference to his committed murder and jail time you know this is going to be a bonkers documentary. And it is. There are no easy answers; Okuzaki’s tenacity is something to behold but his methods, which yield some result, are fidget-inducing. It’s the most excruciatingly uncomfortable film I’ve seen in some time. You kind of feel like you’ve crossed into another dimension once Okuzaki hires his wife and friend to impersonate the brotherless siblings who rightly jump ship on their journey towards truth. His interrogation methods are so relentless and so narrow that the film is a dive into one man’s post-war psyche just as much as the partial truths of specific WWII atrocities dug up. And then there’s the role of documentarian in all this. Truly a bizarre trailblazing documentary of dangerous and volatile investigative parts and you’ll never forget Kenzo Okuzaki. Not something I ever want to see again but that’s okay because it’s burned into my brain.

#134. Before Midnight (2013, Linklater)
Review in separate post.

#135. Love, Marilyn (2013, Garbus)

A really informative cliffnotes info dump about her life. Considering how loaded and complex her life was, it is impressive how much ground is covered. Having a chunk of her written material be the context for the documentary was lovely, centralizing her voice. If only it had been presented differently. Most of the male actors got the job done. The women on the other hand are often forced, over-emotive and theatrical. It was like being at an unfortunate casting session. It didn’t help that the fake backgrounds and constant camera movement further distracted from the reading sessions. But overall well worth watching if someone wants a sense of the basic puzzle pieces of her life as well as an introductory sense of her mindset.

Bling Ring
#136. The Bling Ring (2013, Coppola)

Like a vapid anthropological study, Coppola ponders the mindset of these entitled criminals as they nonchalantly rob the houses of the rich and famous. What drew me to The Bling Ring is the way Coppola focuses on the entitlement of the entitled. That is to say, these teenagers act as if they are merely going to a friends house while they are away. There is never a sense of doing something wrong. No worrying about implications and consequences. They shared the same space as celebrities at various clubs and bars. Tabloids and gossip blogs allow people to track their every movement so anyone can know where a celebrity is on any given day. So it’s like they feel naturally entitled to break into their homes and take their things. It’s treated as blase, and the materialism brings them superficially closer to fame. Coppola is more interested in the frame of mind, specifically the lack of it, that would make one do such things. Being that close to fame, allowing one’s life to be made up entirely out of superficial concerns. And taking the next step.

We might not be like the characters in the film, but it’s indicative of larger fact that many of us obsess over and talk about famous people with a inordinate level of familiarity. And this is something that has certainly blown up with the advent of internet culture. These girls are on the farthest end of the spectrum but the fact of the matter is that a lot of people invest too much time and energy and thoughts into what their favorite famous people are doing or wearing or fucking day in and day out.  Between tabloid culture and real-life shipping within fandom, which I personally find uncomfortable, there are may facets of becoming far too involved with famous people. I see it every day on tumblr and pretty much everywhere else within fan culture. The broader implications aren’t addressed in The Bling Ring, but they certainly exist and the film depicts one extreme example of unwarranted attachment.

These characters are wildly privileged and clearly have zero sense of the concept of earning, of private space or of remorse. Coppola took an interesting approach that I largely admired, staying true to her initial fascination, sacrificing the development of ideas for mere contemplation. It doesn’t make for as great film, but it certainly makes for a good one.

Watching several episodes of ‘Pretty Wild’, the short-lived Alexis Neiers reality show to prep for the film added a wonderfully horrifying layer of context to everything. As a result, Emma Watson saying ‘kitten heels’ had both of us cackling.

#137. Monsters University (2013, Scanlon)

A riff on the college buddy comedy, Monsters University might not pack the kind of next-level emotional wallop of some of Pixar’s output or have the kind of ambition we crave from them, but this is flat-out the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year. That anyone could have walked out of this unsatisfied boggles my mind. As much as I want to accept and be open to all responses people may have to any given film, ‘soulless snob’ automatically springs to mind in regards to anyone who was impervious to its considerable charms. It’s heartfelt, hilarious and carries a wonderful message on its back. It hits every note it tries to, every joke lands on-target (anyone who lived on a college campus will appreciate a lot of the humor) and Crystal and Goodman lend their top-notch voice work in reviving their Mike and Sully characters. Far exceeded my expectations.


Films Seen in 2013: Round-Up: #80-85 & Reintroduction #31


#80. Room 237 (2013, Ascher)
After a director and his/her countless contributing collaborators make a film, it gets sent out into the masses. In this post-modern world, what a director intends is only part of the collective identity that makes up the final product. In Room 237, five people have obsessively picked apart Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, offering up their theories as Rodney Ascher meshes them together in a blender of visual theses. There’s a lot of engaging digging to be had with Room 237, and I always love watching or reading about films getting picked apart. However, a pervading sense of theoretical extremism comes across. The theories posited are all loopy, giving an overall misrepresentative tilt to how cinephiles think of films, or at least how I like to think they do. Stanley Kubrick being the precise genius he was fully invites this level of outside-the-box examination with his works. His films give off an air of the infinite. I just wish the critical analysis felt a bit more substantive and less foolish and outlandishly idiosyncratic.


#81. Witness (1985, Weir)
Filled with Peter Weir’s reliable brand of culturally specific serenity and anchored by an atypically subdued performance by Harrison Ford (his only Oscar nomination). Weir shifts between thriller and quiet culture shock drama nicely and he was the perfect director for this material. Lukas Haas reminded me a bit of little Bobby Henrey from The Fallen Idol, observant and ever-peering. But as the film moves towards its climax, we forget Haas exists. There are moments to cherish in each of its three distinct acts, but Maurice Jarre’s preposterously dated synth score distracts from the film’s impact. Though Weir’s reverence for the Amish community is considered and poetic (the indoor scenes are at times stunningly Vermeer-like), the tone lulls a bit too much overall.

face off 2-disc capture 5

82. Face/Off (1997, Woo)
A blast and then some only begins to describe the elation of watching the flamboyant action gun-fu of John Woo’s Face/Off. Cinematic gun fights don’t do it for me, unless the emphasis is put on the anticipation of. There’s nothing physical or exhaustive about it and my only substantial complaint about last year’s The Raid: Redemption was that in order to get to the pencak silat, you had to sit through a half an hour of relentless gun slaughter. But John Woo makes everything balletic and flamboyant. If there’s anyone who can bring the machismo version of melodramatic camp to the world of action, it’s Woo. But the morality of gunplay, suits, birds, near-biblical proportions, stunts, explosions, loaded gestures and slo-mo, the things we expect from Woo, are only a small part of why I loved Face/Off.

The primary joy doesn’t even come from the action, but from the deliriously preposterous high concept of identity swapping, and the carte blanche it gives to Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Now, we all know Cage can bring the crazy, and his beginning scenes as villainous Caster Troy do not disappoint. But for the majority, he has to play John Travolta’s somber and son-less Sean Archer and Travolta has to slip into Cage’s brand of wide-eyed frenzy. Face/Off is all about toying with audience expectations in regards to established onscreen personas and using that to explore transformation of identity. The film’s success rests on whether or not we can believe each is in the other’s skin, and we absolutely do. Travolta had to be able to match the energy of Cage’s early scenes and he does, giving the kind of performance I honestly had not thought capable of him. Not everyone would be able to successfully channel Nic Cage. Their transformations turn into a kind of hyper-kinetic existential crisis as scenario after scenario emerges. They’ve swapped faces, but they have identities and relationships to take on that come with it. So Travolta and Cage have to not only embody the other persona, but the other persona has to keep up appearances as the first persona. Trippy stuff.  Identity becomes malleable but also a trap and the mind-games that slipping into someone’s face affords each runs the gamut. Absolutely a new favorite of mine.


#83. Switchblade Sisters (1975, Hill)
There’s something uncommonly developed about Switchblade Sisters that had me at hello, catapulting it to that top-tier level of exploitation. Yes, there’s that crucial scene between Maggie and Dominic that I wish to hell had been changed. Even in a genre as silly as this where bad taste and offensiveness run streaking in the streets, the aforementioned scene was a huge misstep. And I was also disappointed that these girls are still subordinate to their male counterparts and that the guys had to leave the girls, instead of the girls realizing that being treated like shit isn’t ideal. There’s an almost Shakespearean quality that’s been pointed out in the internal conflicts of the gang, rooted in scheming, betrayal and blinding loyalty that blend the ultimate in highbrow and lowbrow. As the film continues, the girls shed the male characters and go from the complimentary Dagger Debs to the independent Jezebels, teaming up with a group of black communist revolutionaries led by Muff.

Chipmunk-like Robbie Lee, the striking Joanne Nail and plotting one-eyes Monica Gayle all unashamedly impressed me. It’s the best kind of bad acting there is, and call me crazy but I’m even hesitant to call it bad. There’s integrity to their performances (even if Nail is all over the map) that they and only they hold onto amidst the dopiness, making the roles their own and I admired that. Robbie Lee in particular, who looks about twelve and sounds like Vanellope von Schweetz but intimidates everybody, took me aback. She’s relentlessly cruel on the outside with barely-there tinges of empathy, but as the film moves forward her idiocy and gullible nature hold her back in relation to Dominic and Patch. She crumbles and then fuels that perceived weakness into misguided rage. I’d honestly also count this amongst a new favorite of mine as well despite it being wildly problematic and offensive, the way we expect a Jack Hill film to be. Closes with a memorable maniacal crescendo of a speech by Joanne Nail.


#84. Hansel and Gretel (2007, Yim)
Just a warning; if you watch this on Instant Netflix, the frame rate is dismal. But I’d definitely recommend checking this one out. The kind of rejuvenated push I like to see in fairy tale inspired films. Instead of mythology and action and epic scales, Hansel and Gretel takes inspiration from the tale and molds a dark fantasy reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” and coated with the youthful tragedy of Pan’s Labyrinth. Horror becomes more felt when you root it in tangible sadness and while the film overextends its explanations, by the end you feel not terror but melancholy, making you feel more than you expected. Hansel and Gretel finds its horror elements in the ways grown-ups can fail to provide a semblance of expected paternal comfort. Think the opposite; the film goes about it in some pretty unflinching ways. Though it needed to be trimmed by fifteen minutes and lead Chun Jung-myung waxes inertia, Yim Pil-sung and crew successfully takes a different tack by unsettling the viewer with its bright playground postcard of a house. It’s an inescapable child’s nirvana a little too picaresque, with inhabitants a little too smiley and ready-to-please. The perfect family always seems off-kilter and this is the conceit used to usher us into the protective and falsely euphoric fortress built by Man-bok, Young-hee and Jung-soon.


#85. Sleuth (1972, Mankiewicz)
Glad to have finally caught this on TCM. I had seen the first hour years ago and it’s not available on Netflix. Sleuth is a tennis match of elaborate game-playing humiliation. Based on the 1970 play by Anthony Schaffer and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s final film, the tete-a-tete on display is exactly the kind of psychological chamber piece I love. The stakes get higher and higher as manhood is tested and the new generation takes over the class-obsessed old. And all in the bonkers reclusive circus mansion of wind-ups, automatons and self-obsession. Schaffer could have cut some of the dialogue as Olivier’s playacting becomes exhausting after a while. The last act is my favorite, a revenge-filled wordplay as time quickly runs out.



#31. Phantom of the Paradise (1974, De Palma)
First Seen in: 2008
I’ll just get right to it; I don’t just love Phantom of the Paradise. I cherish it. It’s an admixture of influences and well-timed lampooning. It’s “Phantom of the Opera”, “Faust”, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”  and a slew of sprinkled horror references all rolled up into a low-rent camp send-up of the rock industry, eventually imploding upon itself as it goes deeper and deeper into an increasingly accelerated timeline of one-day-you’re-in-the-next-you’re-out. Anyone who knows the things I love knows Paul Williams is high up on the list. And this is as much a showcase for him as it is for Brian De Palma and his stockpile of inventive and lively camerawork. Writing the words and music, which fall into different waves of rock trends, and starring as the Satanic Swan, he is the fittingly ubiquitous glue of Phantom, summing up just how crucial and identity-making 1974 is to the film, especially in its satirical generational edge. And he somehow makes for one of the most oddly compelling, unexpectedly effective ‘villain’ roles in a film I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the unexpectedness of it. Certainly part of it is the way Williams plays it mostly straight, with a healthy dose of heightened caricature. It’s a comedy, but some of the best comedies feature performances that belie their labels. Same goes for William Finley, that gawky bug-eyed wonder of never-outgrown high school nerd-dom. Part of Phantom of the Paradise’s charm is that with Paul Williams and William Finley, you’ve got two of the most unlikely leads ever to be seen.

Someday I’d like to write more about this film and really dig deep into why I love it. Lately, I’ve sort of gone-blank writing wise. It happens often, but I just have to force myself to keep at it. Suffice it to say, this is the ultimate cult film. Wall-to-wall with fabulous songs, reconstructing stories we’ve seen so many times and giving it a new campy edge that’s about as much fun as you can have at the movies. Second only to Blow Out as my favorite Brian De Palma film, I fell in love of every single second of this upon re-watching it. True love at second sight and a new Top 100 favorite. There’s so many little details that stick out, that feel entirely its own. Like Jessica Harper’s endearing and spontaneous cluck-like dance moves. The sacrosanct characteristics I watch films for. Moments like that.

Screening Log: June 1st-15th, 2012 – Films #166-192

All grades are ultimately arbitrary and are just there for personal posterity.

167. Senso (1954, Visconti): A

168. The Furies (1950, Mann): A-/B+

169. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Fellini): A

170. Prometheus (2012, Scott): B+/B

171. The Devil and the Deep (1932, Gering): B-/C+

172. Faithless (1932, Beaumont): B-

173. Dishonored (1931, von Sternberg): B+

174. Rain (1932, Milestone): C-

175. Dames (1934, Enright/Berkeley): B+

176. Murder at the Vanities (1934, Leisen): B-

177. Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998): B+/B

178. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970): A

179. Claire (2001): C

180. Little Otik (2002, Svankmajer): B+

181. Come Drink with Me (1965, King Hu): B-/C+

182. Yes, Madam (1985): A-

183. She Shoots Straight (1990): B+

184. Sukeban Deka (1987): B

185. Gymkata (1985): F

186. Jack and Jill (2011,Dugan): F

187. The Beastmaster (1982): F

188. Rock n Roll Nightmare (1988): D

189. Roller Boogie (1979): D

190. Sextette (1979, Hughes): F

191. Betty Blue (1986, Beineix): B+/B

192. Infernal Affairs (2002, Lau & Mak): B+

Screening Post: December 17th-31st

371. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011, Bird): A/A-

372. Albert Nobbs (2011, Garcia): D

373. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011, Fincher): B

374. The Adventures of Tintin (2011, Spielberg): B-

375. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Alfredson): A

376. A Dangerous Method (2011, Cronenberg): B/B-

377. Call Her Savage (1932, Dillon): B

378. Safe in Hell (1931, Wellman): B-

379. Design for Living (1933, Lubitsch): A-

380. The Story of Temple Drake (1933, Roberts): B-/C+

381. Downstairs (1932, Bell): B

382. Different from the Others (1919, Oswald): C

383. Waxworks (1923, Leni): B

384. Queen Kelly (1928, von Stroheim): B+/B

385. Nothing but Trouble (1991, Ackroyd): F

386. Life as We Know It (2010, Berlanti):B-/ C+

387. The Apple (1980, Golan): A- (This may be my new favorite ‘best worst movie’)

388. Glitter (2001, Curtis Hall): F

389. Solarbabies (1986, Johnson): D-

390. The Party (1968, Edwards): C

391. Horrible Bosses (2011, Gordon): B

392. Blithe Spirit (1945, Lean): B+

393. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988, Davies): B

394. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004, Meadows): B+

395. The Last Wave (1977, Weir): B/B-

396. After Hours (1985, Scorsese): A

397. La Haine (1995, Kassovitz): A-

398. Beautiful Thing (1996, Macdonald): B+

399. War Horse (2011, Spielberg): B-