Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up #214-224

I’ve got a bit of catch-up to do here. And I’m also 2 films away from being ready to work on my Top Ten of 1983 list (finally!). It took longer than I thought. And I still don’t know what the ten are going to look like. But here is a round-up of some films watched this month.

Drug War

#214. Drug War (2013, To)
I’m happy to say that Drug War lived up to my cautiously set expectations (meaning that expectations are a dangerous and destructive tendency to have with films and so I avoid them as much as I reasonably can, even with a film such as this). 2013 seems to be the year where the film community has taken on To’s intimidating filmography with rigor. It’s an exciting development largely triggered by Drug War’s Western success. Not including Drug War, I’d only seen a couple of To’s films (everyone needs to see The Heroic Trio because it has amazing Hong Kong lady stars becoming superheroes and kicking ass!) and Drug War definitely left me pining for more of his work.

This is rigid, disciplined, alive. Entirely driven, on a content level, by its plot mechanics which make up a serious and twisty crime/action film laced with politics of Mainland China where rigidity is a false pretense because everything feels like it can go bust at any second. And oh boy does it ever.

On its surface it may on first glance look like a really solid action flick, but when you watch it, it doesn’t quite feel like others of its kind. It’s hermetically sealed and about the illusion of order. Everything is slick (what glorious sound!), not supported by the notion of ‘cool’ so much as the notion of pure craftsmanship. There is an immaculate tracking of space and place. You can tell this is special just in the way it goes about introducing all the key players at the beginning. It doesn’t dumb down character intros but it’s a casually intricate map rooted in clarity. Drug War gets more compelling by the minute and is contains a pretty fantastic female detective played by Huang Yi.

I went from really wanting to see Blind Detective to really really really wanting to see Blind Detective.

Only God Forgives

#215. Only God Forgives (2013, Refn)
Short review coming soon

Pauline at the Beach

#216. Pauline at the Beach (1983, Rohmer)
My first Rohmer film! And I found it delightful. It’s a brisk comedy/coming-of-age film about the lack of self-awareness that young (well mostly) idealistic folk carry around with them when it comes to how people talk about love versus how they actually partake in it. The lesson here is that active self-awareness is a virtue but self-awareness in and of itself doesn’t get you far if you don’t know how to apply that knowledge to your actions. These characters talk about love and other characters prospects. But they are unable to listen to their own advice. And so we spend the film watching a small group of people making poor decisions driven by naivete and their own weaknesses. What’s additionally amusing is that the ‘love’ in question purposely lacks any potency.

Pauline is the only one who takes anything away from the film’s events as she observes, grows, and learns from other people’s choices as well as her own. It ends on a grace note which signifies that her learned lessons will be kept to herself. People will behave how they want and believe what they will. Some will learn from their experiences and some won’t. The exclusive-feeling message that I took from it is that it’s better to affirm and to nod your head because people won’t take to a romantic reality even if you try and shed some light. This doesn’t go for everyone, but for a character like Marion? Honey, you are wasting your time. And Pauline knows this. A naturalistic combination of Kristy McNichol/young Scarlett Johansson/Ellen Page, Amanda Langlet is such a presence. She is our access point and without her the film would fail to bring us into the film’s world of fleeting bygone ‘love’.

Blue Caprice

#217. Blue Caprice (2013, Moors)
A case of love-the-approach, not the execution. Blue Caprice admirably goes for an unsensationalistic and determinedly opaque fictional take on the origin of the Beltway sniper attacks. But that opaqueness never coalesces into anything memorable. I also think it should have ended right before the shootings begin. Moors unwillingness or way of tip-toeing around depicting the crimes makes the final act feel sort of pointless. The focus is smartly not on ‘why’ but on how a father-son-like bond of such destructive force comes to be. It’s a deadly bond made up of outward world-is-against-me-blame and the silent pliable mind of someone who seeks a fatherly figure no matter the cost. It defiantly hits its plot points without magnifying them. But their somewhat cliched presence to begin with, the fact that these marks are hit at all if we weren’t going to focus on them much, makes them feel a bit like lead. Both lead performances are quite strong, each bringing a different kind of menacing quality to their roles. But Blue Caprice’s wishy-washy quality makes it forgettable and without much staying power. It has its moments but that resolute ambiguity doesn’t fulfill itself as a work about the unknowable nature behind an atrocity such as this.


#218-219. Frog, Frogs (1987, 1991, Grossman)
On the one hand most critics/reviewers would write this off immediately. And yet…Shelley Duvall’s brand of unrelenting well-meaning cornball and DIY charm that her exec prod. credit and general presence infuses is oddly endearing at times. Especially when you take into account the sequel which is surprising in the ways in manages to bring a lot of continuity to the table. Real thought was put into portraying the false posturing of adolescence and that it’s a time where identity can be lost as easily as it can be found. If you can look past Paul Williams career nadir as a lounge singing frog with a broad Italian accent, you’ll actually find yourself rooting for Robin Tunney (in her first role as an adorable scientist geek) and Scott Grimes to hook up and you’ll be wanting more Elliot Gould baseball analogies and Duvall life lessons complete with lizard slippers. I watched this with a crowd and against your better judgment you’ll be left wanting to incorporate rhubus as an insult into your vocab.

Three Crowns of the Sailor

#220. Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983, Ruiz)
Alternately engaging headspace of wandering mythos which would then go into bouts that had trouble taking me along the contemplative ride. It’s on a wavelength that constantly threatens to leave you behind if you’re not in the right frame of mind to latch onto its mysterious episodes. Gets into a lot about the act of storytelling and its contexts and cultural influences which felt like they went a bit over my head. Not in a sense of content but in its air of historical heritage and folklore that I’m not privy to. But there were a few sequences I loved and it left me wanting to see more Raul Ruiz as well as revisit this again several years down the road.


#221. Bastards (2013, Denis)
Denis gets a bit restricted by tethering herself to the bare bones outline of this very dark noir story. On the one hand she still, as ever, places conventional narrative at the bottom of the totem pole, but in this case those noir bare bones can be a limiting cage of convention and trope without nuance due to Denis’ other priorities. So we end up with plot points you can see coming from basically the first minute as well as certain characters having confusing motivations on the most basic of levels in ways they shouldn’t be (I’m thinking mainly of Lindon). Denis is known for her opaque poeticisms but it clashes with the presence of tropes here and there is a bit of stumbling to be had.

So I got all of that out of the way because even though this is my least favorite Denis film I’ve seen, I liked it a hell of a lot and anything by her is far more interesting than most films that get released. She still doles out images that will stick with you for life. A bleeding and naked, still impossibly young, and yellow street-lit Lola Creton in heels click-clacking like a zombie down the backstreets of Paris will be with me forever. As will that last scene; My God. Even though the way Denis uses narrative can be a detract from Bastards, the way she uses that same ambiguity as an unwillingness to directly deal with the horrors of what’s going on, focusing on thematic and intuitive image, makes everything all the more unsettling and skin-crawling. Once again, Tindersticks provide ample support.

One Deadly Summer

#222. One Deadly Summer (1983, Becker)
Maybe ultimately a bit too faithful to the book? It certainly doesn’t help that I had just finished reading the novel before watching this, making me hyper-aware of the beat-for-beat story points and perspective changes. This makes it an overlong slog at times. But I still say this is a largely underseen film thanks in large part to Isabelle Adjani’s performance (and *lots* of nudity which manages to be somewhat empowering and also nice to look at). She somehow manages to capture Elle, a supremely contradictory, complex, and difficult character to grasp.  It’s a fresh take on the fall of man by a calculating woman which favors female perspective in ways that eventually undercut the typical male perspective. But ultimately it’s not one that makes its mark. It’s the definition of a solid piece of work said as a slightly backhanded compliment.


223. Something in the Air (Après mai) (2013, Assayas)
We all have directors that we think of as ‘one of ours’. I’d have to say Olivier Assayas is one of those for me with his post-punk sensibilities and occasional all-time home-runs. This is easily my least favorite from him since demonlover (2 of the 3 Assayas films I haven’t seen are Clean and Boarding Gate), despite crackles of brilliance and the accomplished way it takes a blanket snapshot of the confusing aftermath of revolution from French youth of the 60’s when nobody knows what or who they want in life. This is when the film worked for me. It struggles when it reveals that Assayas wants to have it both ways. He wants that autobiographical coming-of-age romance too. The cliches of the personal story fall flat and can’t gain much interest because the film is torn by two sets of ambition, much like the protagonist. But there are still heights to be reached such as a sequence when we stay back at a party with Laure (Carole Combes) and a personal moment of loss is interrupted by a blazing fire. The time period also allows Assayas to show off his music taste and I always take any opportunity to say he has bar none the best music taste of any filmmaker working today. He puts most everyone else to absolute shame.

224. L’Argent (1983, Bresson)
A mite too didactic and unsparing (at times you think ‘we get it; money is evil, Good God man!), but certainly a masterwork of sorts. Engaging but partly in that kind of dry way in which you’d find a great thesis or textbook engaging. It follows the money trail to its natural sociopathic endpoint. It takes some time to lead us to our main character but once it settles into his lack of luck, this remains gripping to the end. Bresson’s language of spare absolutes makes for a brutally cold descent where sets and sound feel on edge and discomfiting in their pure purposefulness. His trademark use of non-actors make the sealed-off exchanges feel effectively robotic, as if real people barely even exist anymore. A treatise about money as corrupter, destroyer, weapon, power, and an agent for the erasure of humanity. While that didactic absolute can, as I said, be a bit much, it makes for an uncompromising last film that will haunt you in the days afterward.c


Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #189-202

Lots of horror films in this latest chunk as my (and many other fellow film freaks) seasonal Halloween viewings come to a close. Tragic, I know. Another year where I’m reminded that October is my favorite time of the year, not just for that transition into the autumnal bliss that is late-year New England, but because everyone in the online film community is watching, considering, and discussing horror films with the consideration and passion the genre deserves.

This Is the End
#189. This Is the End (2013, Rogen & Goldberg
Completely outlandish in its very existence, this is self-indulgence done largely right, a grand scale look at the raunchy things that amuse these actors. It’s also very much about their relationship to fame and friendship. Unsurprisingly, this was not a film I was looking forward to (though I actually really like Seth Rogen and most of these guys for that matter), because as if we need more of this kind of exclusively male club of comedy. It sold me because these guys know how to construct, depict, and exploit their own dynamic for laughs. It even uses an Emma Watson cameo to boldly reveal just why there is no room for women within the group (hint: they can’t see past their own vanity) Simply put, I laughed harder during this than any film I’ve seen in a long time. But it crumbles to pieces in the final third. From stellar set-up to entertaining down-time, the last third goes into spectacle mode, drowning out any of its humanistic remnats with bawdy effects-driven broadness. I don’t like spectacle-driven comedy so unfortunately Rogen & Goldberg’s experiment in meta-examination crosses the finish line in overblown fashion.

#190. Opera (1987, Argento)
Features some of the most memorable kill scenes in any horror film I’ve seen, made further abrasive through its unconventional use of metal to contrast a soundtrack otherwise filled with opera. One moment in particular, a gunshot through a keyhole, reaches a state of rare brutal divinity that left me beside myself. Notable for the way Argento reaches into his more experimental side, (about half this film is a playful and genuine accomplishment about the act of seeing) unfortunately leaving the lame non-stories that often accompany giallo on fuller-than-normal display.


#191. The Boxer’s Omen (1983, Chin-Hung Kuei)
Hong Kong horror that ranks alongside Hausu and Freaked as the full-stop craziest and most demented films I’ve ever seen. Absolutely loved this because it attains a very peculiar level of being at once extremely over-the-top and silly but also deeply unsettling in the way it spotlights goo, slime, sludge, ooze and the like in relation to the body. There isn’t a ton of blood in The Boxer’s Omen (relatively speaking; I mean yes a crocodile gets cut open, its entrails taken out only to be replaced by a mummified woman which they then stitch into the carcass to reanimate it), but the constant fixation on gook, and then the skeletal, in relation to the body really gets under the skin after awhile. It recalls of an article I once had to read (for what I don’t remember) which discussed these kinds of liquids in relation to the body, mortality, and decay; why these kinds of images get at something indescribable and irreconcilable. In its truly out-there and awesome way, The Boxer’s Omen gets at this with its hokey anything-and-I-mean-anything goes credo.


#192. Magic Magic (2013, Silva)
Deserving of far more than its unfortunate direct-to-DVD fate, Chilean director Sebastian Silva makes an uncomfortable fray into mental collapse. It toes the line between treating Temple’s mental illness as such, staying true to her experience without embellishing too much for genre convention. What I love about Magic Magic is the way that it depicts the group of young people she is surrounded by as assholes. Her experience of them is paranoiac and completely different, and yet the components are all there; her initial isolation justifiably felt. The way Silva balances the social aspect of these off-putting folk and the way Juno Temple (in a fucking great piece of acting) distorts her mindset in relation to them is a different kind of subtle concoction than I’m used to seeing. Michael Cera performance is genuinely creepy-crawly. His natural ineffectual awkwardness is tilted left-of-center for an extremely unsettling character named Brink who seems at the start like he is either one extremely annoying/creepy individual or an outright sociopath. He makes the performance extremely naturalistic and seemingly on-the-fly which is what makes it so effective. But the last third takes a completely nosedive and undoes most of what came before for a blunt and distancing climax that is thrown in with all sense of control removed from every character, not just Temple, resulting in most interest lost. It’s a shame because the first two-thirds features some really strong material, acting, and dynamics through atmosphere and subjectivity created by Silva and Christopher Doyle.

#193. Valley Girl (1983, Coolidge)
I was so hoping to love Valley Girl, but I didn’t even like it. It really all boils down to the fact that there was nothing for me to grasp onto, even in a superficial sense. Except for E.G Daily who should have been in every 80s teen film ever. I expect more craziness from an early Nic Cage performance. Peggy Sue Got Married clearly spoiled me on that front. The soundtrack is great and I find it compelling as a cultural touchstone (was the ‘valley girl’ subculture widespread at this point? still regional? It also seems to both occupy an exaggerated stereotypical space as well as a fairly grounded one) but this was uninteresting in its vapidity.

#194. Zelig (1983, Allen)
A delightful yet somber high concept anomaly from Allen that pushes its themes of neurosis and Jewish identity completely outside of the box. It may deal with ideas of cultural assimilation but that wanting to fit in urge makes it universally relatable. It’s a curious piece of work; not one I fell head over heels for, but one I spent most of my time admiring.

The technical achievement of Zelig is, well, to be facetious, fuck Gravity. I’m going to spend my time being in awe of what Allen accomplished 30 years ago. He and cinematographer Gordon Willis spent years perfecting a wide variety of techniques getting the newsreel period footage to look accurate from the cameras they used, bluescreen technology, applying damage, etc. It’s absolutely seamless. On a final note, Mia Farrow channeling Liv Ullman is just a lovely thing.

#195. Gothic (1986, Russell)
Gothic never comes together as a compellingly over-the-top take on what inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein during her famed stay in Geneva but it does scar you in the way logic quickly disappears from the evening, replaced by Freudian fears and imagery which feel inescapable. There are a lot of images that are going to stay with me from Gothic, none more than the entirety of Timothy Spall as Dr. John Polidori in a feverishly repressed performance that becomes more and more revealingly skinned.

#196. The Dresser (1983, Yates)
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen two more exhausting performances in a film. And I don’t mean this in a good way. The craft of the work is impressive in a sense, with Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay getting double lead actor nods at that year’s Oscars. But both are dialed up to ‘11’ from start to finish. This is ACTING in the most thespian of manners with both playing to the nosebleed sections at all times. It makes for an ineffectively abrasive experience with side effects that include not being able to hear myself think and an inability to appreciate the macabre tone of the piece and the meat of the story. They feed off each other and the basic components of storytelling such as dialogue, direction, and build-up so all that is eventually left is a collection of raving, screaming, hand-wringing, crying, and ineffectual mannerisms.

#197. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984, Zito)
Surprisingly enjoyable, especially considering I don’t care for this franchise at all. Basically it comes down to Crispin ‘dead fuck’ Glover, whose presence elevates every single scene with the group of teenagers to something damn near holy. I also greatly enjoyed Corey Feldman and his origin story-of-sorts as well as the family unit in general, all of which makes for a relatively fun slasher.

#198. From Beyond (1986, Gordon)
Say hello to one of my new favorite films because From Beyond is kind of the greatest. A follow-up to Re-Animator with outrageously disgusting (and thus awesome) practical effects work, a purple-pink color scheme you won’t soon forget, the perfect lead trifecta of Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Ken Foree and so much more. These are the kinds of films we have to cherish because they don’t really exist in this particular combination anymore. You feel the work and the personal touch amidst and within the way the story’s limits are pushed on. It is at once ridiculous yet darker in tone than Re-Animator. I love the Combs/Crampton role reversal and the ways in which each embody their characters. Lastly, the ending is a perfect moment to close on, one of a series of stellar endings in the horror films I’ve been watching lately. Basically, yes to everything about From Beyond.

#199. Asylum (1972, Baker)
Silly anthology film with an absurd, and thus fantastic, framing story. Most of the vignettes are flat and undercooked and at least one is outright boring (despite the presence of Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland). However, there is something to latch onto for each segment whether the crinkly sound of a head wrapped in paper, the empathy Peter Cushing is able to bring to anything, or Herbert Lom’s army of automatons.

#200. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Wallace)
One of those horror films that seems like it would improve exponentially in a crowd setting. I really love Carpenter’s idea about making Halloween an anthology franchise. It’s something that should have been implemented right after the first one. I’m weirdly fond of this even though I can’t say I liked it all that much as a whole. The leads are laughably miscast (oh Atkins and your manly man ways) and there are whole sections that fail to stir the imagination or even the basic attention a film asks of a viewer. But then there is a moment or a shot that would take me by genuine surprise every fifteen minutes or so. These bursts of creative or, at the very least, violent flair uprooted me enough to feel oddly fond of it. It is completely removed from the rest of the franchise with a Twilight Zone-esque story that is deceptively offbeat. Its best moments genuinely fucked with my head and it ends on an impossibly high note, a horror movie capper for the ages, that I walked away from it giddy, severe warts and all.

#201. The Right Stuff (1983, Kaufman)
Looks at the the mythmaking hero by contrasting the idealized and unrecognized sage cowboy with the manufactured boyish build-up and media frenzy (the press are portrayed as a pack of fiendish animals complete with snake hissing and rattling on the soundtrack) of the Mercury Seven (miraculously without actually denigrating the men or their accomplishments). It takes a conventional model of the rah-rah USA historical film and does something very astute with it.

This is a surprising film in so many ways. I often found myself amazed by the way it takes on different sections of story, not worrying so much how it relates to the rest but concentrating all energy on making the section at hand seem front-and-center. I think of, for example, how much time we spent on the testing done for all Mercury Seven candidates. This section is treated as its own entity seemingly without the before or after in sight (of course it is), so you get distinctly wrapped up in each portion on its own terms. So during the testing section, while there a concentration on the ongoing theme of the childish one-uppmanship between comrades, there is also a vignette-like dynamic between Dennis Quaid and the cold nurse in charge of testing. It bears no storytelling drive to anything but itself, and for those ten minutes it becomes the entirety of content within the film. That’s just one of the many reasons and examples on why The Right Stuff gathers impact as it accumulates history, moments, and the idea of myth within American history. It smartly starts at the roots, with the test pilots and with Yeager, portrayed as incomparable forefather of everything that follows.

I’ve come to realize that nobody does vulnerability better than Dennis Quaid in his heyday. His hotdog hotshot persona and endless smile, whether in roles squeaky-clean or rough around the edges, belies an open heart I often find myself extremely moved by. See also; Breaking Away.

#202. In the Mouth of Madness (1994, Carpenter)
Truly the most inescapable fictional scenario of them all. There are many ways to interpret this film, because its events are so tenuous and loopy. But I took it as the meta-trap it presents as the very non-existent reality. Characters have no agency in the sense of their fiction and creation. In the Mouth of Madness throws this in the mix which is an inescapable mind warp for everyone involved. Carpenter filters his deceptively simple methods into something increasingly unnerving. It has stuck with me really well and the end (completing my streak in incredible endings) is one of the best ever. Ever. EVER.

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: #91-97

In the House

#91. In the House (2013, Ozon)
In the House will surely go down as one of my favorite 2013 films by year’s end. Right up there with Francois Ozon’s best work, a director who has avoided a solidified auteur status by climbing up and sliding around in genre playgrounds. But he deserves just as much attention, because let’s face it, we misuse and overuse the term as it is. His films lean toward an acerbic wit, adaptations of plays (In the House is an adaptation of Juan Moyarga’s The Boy in the Last Row) and playing with story deconstruction and manipulation whether carried out through his form or his characters. I went on an Ozon binge as a teenager and he remains one of my favorites. With In the House he reaches new heights, in a film that meta-intellectualizes the writing process, exploring our attachment to characters, the critical nature of tone and what happens when you get caught up in real life through fiction. This all sounds stodgy and overtly pleased with itself, but I assure you this is an entertaining class-conscious ride of melodrama and irony. I went into this not knowing anything, only knowing that it was the new Ozon film. And I was gripped from minute one all the way through to the perfect unpredictable, but ‘of course it needed to end this way’ final scene. In the midst of it all, there’s Ernst Umhauer, an alarmingly impactful new find. And he’s absolutely dreamy to boot.

#92. The English Teacher (2013, Zisk)
Full Review:

#93. The Burning (1981, Maylam)
I consider myself a pretty big fan of horror films, and even if I’m always game to give into my baser senses and watch them, the slasher has always been near the bottom of the preferential pack. The distilled hypocrisy of their formulas always irked me, but at the same time from a cultural standpoint they remain juicily revealing. Like almost every genre, my top picks rank among my favorites. Those would be Black Christmas, Sleepaway Camp and Alice, Sweet Alice. The Burning is a pleasant and consistently entertaining surprise, almost but not quite nailing that top-tier level. My checklist for slashers there needs to be a dated, kitschy or fun tone or I need to enjoy the pack of oblivious victims. The Burning hits both requirements.

The characters are a joy to hang out with, and the actors achieved a naturalistic and playful summer camp camaraderie.  Many folks judge slashers by the quality of their kills. Tom Savini does reliably solid work, though had little time to prepare, but the kills are standard fare. Luckily, the tone and interplay between characters matter more to me. You’ve also got some notable film debuts here; Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter and Fisher Stevens. Lead soap opera actor Brian Matthews is hero-hunk of the hour and Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High gets saddled with the outcast role. Probably most notable for being the Friday the 13th rip-off brainchild and one of the first Miramax films from the Weinstein’s, who produced and co-wrote. Friday the 13th is highly over-appreciated. Seek this one out instead.

Encore W. Somerset Maugham Kay Walsh

#94. Encore (1952, Jackson, French & Pelissier)
Encore is the third of three anthology films based on W. Somerset Maugham’s writings. The only one I now haven’t seen is the middle one, titled Trio. On the whole, Encore is just as accomplished as Quartet in bringing idiosyncratic vignettes to life, placing the emphasis on representing a literary perspective through film. The Maugham stories chosen tend to have a focus on the ways people can surprise you amidst established dynamics.

The first story, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, is the weak link, mildly amusing and inconsequential with an unearned ironic ending. The second, “Winter Cruise”, is the best vignette of both Quartet and Encore combined. It is an ode to the persistence of character and unexpected attachment in the forced circumstances of shared company, with a genuinely rewarding ending, adding something to everything that came before. The last story, “Gigolo and Gigolette” deals with the ravenous hunger for tragedy from the haughty public. It is bookended with scenes from the perspectives of the splatter-hungry rich who flock to the venue on the off-chance the female lead’s risky diving feat will end in death. We then get to see the petrified state that has set into Glynis Johns’ mindset and how it affects her marriage to co-performer husband.

The thing about these barely known films is that their direction, which ranges from average to bungled, holds them back from becoming true successes within the realm of filmmaking. The reasons I love both of these films are the memorable stories being told through the short story form and the British character actors who are able to bring the characters to life (especially Kay Walsh whose ‘Molly Reid’ I’ll never forget). However the medium is never utilized to enhance, instead reduced to basic image capturing. It’s a big reason these films haven’t been remembered, which is unfortunate because there’s a lot to get out of them.

prince of darkness 6
#95. Prince of Darkness (1987, Carpenter)
Mid-range John Carpenter impresses by working to the filmmaker’s strengths, his palpable fixation with theoretical physics and atomic theory on full display. He achieves sustained dread through synths and anamorphic lenses, accumulating to an explosion of disturbing abstract imagery complete with Cocteau homage. Second in his apocalypse trilogy, Carpenter thrives off of putting his characters in an enclosed space to fight off evils that slowly become cognizant to the characters as they come together and split apart. That set-up works here because the hive mind of the group offsets Carpenter’s weak spot for writing individual characters. Donald Pleasance has first billing as ‘Priest’ but he never feels present in the slightest. If it weren’t Pleasance in the role he would have received a bit part billing. The developing relationship between mustachioed Jameson Parker and frigid Lisa Blount is established then amusingly dropped. I especially loved Parker’s apparently correct prognosis of frigidity came from her being rightly offended by a sexist jab he makes. Yes, clearly this means she is humorless and dead to the world around her.

The middle section treads a lot of water with the possessed students roaming around taking others over with Linda Blair look-alike Susan Blanchard at the helm. It makes the threat corporeal in a repetitive and uninventive way, which wears thin after a while.

The reasons Prince of Darkness impress are the constant blatant imagery contrasting the scientific lab equipment set-up within the holy space of the church. Most impressive is the climax which mystifies in its atypical form, representing some of the best work in John Carpenter’s career.

#96. Cutter’s Way (1981, Passer)
Cutter’s Way is an uncut gem, one of the best American films of the 80’s, flying completely under the radar since its limited release in 1982. I had heard of it a couple of years ago amongst fellow dedicated treasure-seekers, and the hyperbolic acclaim was through the roof. Believe the long-deserved but still dreadfully unconsummated ballyhoo about this undiscovered classic. A character study with its own matchless identity of damaged individuals bound together by unimpeachable and unspoken personal history and codependency. None of these characters are healthy for the other, but they stay loyal for better and worse.  The set-up for a conventional thriller is established only to be abolished, using its genre fake-out to explore the ambiguous maybe-delusions of crippled patchy-eyed alcoholic Vietnam vet Cutter, played by John Heard in a remarkable piece of acting. I will never primarily see him as Mr. McAllister again.

These maybe-delusions are an outlet for his unsuppressed rage at the world and his experiences in it, a misguided effort to reclaim the long lost (ever there?) hero within him. He’s a volatile unreachable mess of a human, beyond repair. Along for the ride is indecisive best friend Bone, an excellent and often gloriously shirtless Jeff Bridges. Despite being known for keeping his distance from trouble and conflict, his life is built out of decidedly running in place. The third member of this codependent group is fellow depressed alcoholic Mo (Lisa Eichhorn, rounding out this trio of superb performances), a committed defeatist who picks her battles but always loses. The only anomaly is the Ann Dusenberry character, whose presence feels forced and disjointed from the rest of the proceedings. The open ending cements both the ambiguity and the loyalty of the central friendship in a heart-wrenching coda.

Modern Girls (Jerry Kramer, 1986)

#97. Modern Girls (1986, Kramer)
Modern Girls completely won me over through its flamboyant immersion into the then-present 80’s, the kind of film that needed decades to ripen and amass a following. It’s a conventional wild-night-out film that sees its three archetypal women (Virginia Madsen, Daphne Zuniga, Cynthia Gibb) getting into all sorts of hijinks as they run from club to club with unwitting male Cliff (Clayton Rohner). Its appeal lies in the dated culture shock, the youths of L.A represented by three idealized women. These women are written as the kind of ‘cool’ that young women would aspire to be. Hell, I found myself wishing I could be Margo. Their fashion sense, which I think holds up in its funky way, and obscenely confident demeanor (at least on the outside) give way to dream lives that writer Laurie Craig tries to make relatable through their oh-so-woeful work weeks as they waltz through dead-end jobs.

On the outset, all they care about are men, but thankfully there’s some nice work done towards the end to offset their priorities by challenging the characters to favor long-standing friendships and daring to want things for themselves. If made today, I likely wouldn’t care much about Modern Girls. But this 1986 cult film is abundantly quirky and lively with a lot of neon dated character impossible to resist. Its female-centric focus also feels relatively rare for 80’s teen comedies. All in all, I adored the hell out of this one.

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 Log: August-Sept. 14th

247. Wings of the Dove (1998, Softley): B

249. Win Win (2011, McCarthy): B+

250. Of Gods and Men (2011, Beauvois): B-

251. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011, Furman): B-

252. Cedar Rapids (2011, Arteta): D+

253. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011, Flender): B

254. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2011, McCall): C+

255. Captain EO (1986, Coppola): What do you give something like Captain EO? I’ll go with a C. It’s awful, but its too irreverently fun to give a lower grade.

256. Pump up the Volume (1990, Moyle): B+

257. Matador (1986, Almodovar): B

258. Law of Desire (1987, Almodovar): B-

259. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990, Almodovar): A-

260. The Flower of My Secret (1994, Almodovar): B-

261. Cul-de-Sac (1966, Polanski): B+

262. Live Flesh (1997, Almodovar): A-

263. Contagion (2011, Soderbergh): B

264. 28 Up (1985, Apted): A

265. 35 Up (1991, Apted): A

266. Bridesmaids (2011, Fieg): B+

267. They Live (1988, Carpenter): C-

List: 10 Cinematic LGBT Chemistries that Scorched the Screen

Like all my film lists, this remains a subjective account of the LGBT couplings I find have the most palpable chemistry. Palpable is the key word here; you have to feel it. It has to make an impact. It has to be powerful enough to draw the viewer so closely into the intimate moments between two characters that we, subsequently, feel as if we are a part of something we aren’t. Nothing overtly sexual has to happen between the two; that is not what this is necessarily about. Reasons for inclusion can involve simply the strength of the two actors and how well they fuse together. It could equally involve the characters they play as well as the context of the situation they’re in. For this list, being a couple is not a requirement. There does however, have to be definitive inarguable romantic or sexual interest from at least one of the characters for the other.

Anyone expecting a really diverse list is going to be sorely disappointed. I have seen more than my fair share of LGBT films, but a great deal of them I saw so long ago, it was difficult to recall many of the films in question. Jeffrey, Lost and Delirious, Better than Chocolate, Show Me Love, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Killer Condom (are there any eligible couples in this film even? I can’t remember despite loving it), The Dying Gaul, The Killing of Sister George, Bedrooms and Hallways, Broken Hearts Club, The Children’s Hour, The Crying Game and The Living End are some examples of LGBT films I have seen but cannot recall enough to seriously consider. Then there are the ones that did not make the cut that I did remember well enough, but there was a limited number of spots.

But most importantly, there are the inordinate amount of LGBT films I have not seen. The number is many, and while I hope to rectify that at some point (by seeing such films as Bent, Beautiful Thing, Big Eden and more), for now I made the list to the best of my ability. And for now, the best of my ability means that I had to largely draw from films I have seen more recently or films I simply recall more vividly for one reason or another. If my reasons do not seem to go much into the actual chemistry between the two actors it is because it goes without saying that each pairing has sexual chemistry that melts off the screen.

Without further ado;

10. Jim Carrey as Steven Jay Russell and Ewan McGregor as Phillip Morris in I Love You Phillip Morris (2010)

There is a layer of genuine sincerity at the center of this romance that is really quite sweet. Especially when taking into account that Carrey’s Russell is anything but sincere in his scheming endeavors. McGregor is able to pull off a boy-like overeager charm with a touch of naivete better than any other actor. He has portrayed this air to equal effect in Moulin Rouge! and Big Fish. When he makes another appearance on this list, not a trace of that boyishness can be found. What makes the material between these two so engrossing is that the film is told, and played, with a fairy-tale like sensibility. This draws out a dreamy feel of old-school romance and the actors make us feel the love between the two.

9. John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig and Michael Pitt as Tommy in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

The scenes between Hedwig and Tommy are my favorites in the film. What starts out as a familiar relationship of experience/inexperience turns into betrayal and desertion made more complicated by Hedwig’s anatomical state; “it’s what I have to work with”.

8. Sean Penn as Harvey Milk and James Franco as Scott Smith in Milk (2008)

Penn and Franco make us feel the familiarity, history and comfort that these two men have together. Their scenes are conducted by Van Sant with love and warmth, all lending further depth to their sexual chemistry, which is already overflowing before the aforementioned elements are brought into play.

7. Naomi Watts as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn and Laura Elena Harring as Rita/Camilla Rhodes in Mulholland Drive (2001)

The work coming from Watts and Harring in Mulholland Drive has so much to do with the careful stylization within the performances and the planning that goes into the contrast between Rita/Camilla and Betty/Diane. Each has to play antithetical emotions and dynamics within entirely different representations of their characters. The brilliance of the two performances is that they are able to instill the innocent and sudden blossoming of love  in one scenario and the toxic and disturbing levels of hate and self-destruction in the other. Add to this two sex scenes that have considerable impact (one is my favorite in all of film; the only sex scene that consistently has the ability to move me to tears) and there is nothing more to be said.

6. Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett in The Runaways (2010)

That Stewart and Fanning are able to make what they do of the mediocre material in front of them is impressive. Luckily director Sigismondi knows how milk every bit of tension between the two through cinematography (by the unbearably talented Benoît Debie) and visual flair that extrapolates what the two have together. In turn, the two actresses are able to make up for the underwhelming script (also by Sigismondi) through their performances and their chemistry together. They are able to portray the curiosity within teenage sexual  exploration and it feels especially authentic. I proclaimed the “I Wanna Be Your Dog” scene the sexiest of 2010 film and I continue to stand by that claim.

5. Jennifer Tilly as Violet and Gina Gershon as Corky in Bound (1996)

Despite reasonable assumptions, Tilly and Gershon do not have a great deal of screen time together in the Wachowskis debut directorial feature. Before the film turns into a constantly twisty and suspenseful take on neo-noir, its first half hour is a delightfully self-aware campy excursion into lesbian seduction. The filmmakers and actresses are aware of the sleazy expectations people must have had going into this film. They embrace that, complete with line readings that feel at times parodic, but by throwing in unexpected earnestness, it manages to be fun, sexy and genuine. Their big sex scene is beautifully choreographed in one long swooping take that focuses on the minutiae of bodily expression . Instead of it being just a sex scene, it smartly details the physicality of love-making.

4. Heath Ledger as Ennis del Mar and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005)

What makes this story as remarkable as it is, is that every aspect of it is executed with unmatchable tact and grace. What Ledger and Gyllenhaal bring to the proceedings, besides two incredible individual performances, is an epic quality that their pairing lends both the film and the story it is telling. The film is quiet and closely observed and Lee allows the emotions of the actors play themselves out unfettered and raw. It is justifiably one for the ages.

3. Hertha Thiele as Manuela von Meinhardis and Dorothea Wieck as Governess Fräulein von Bernburg in Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

This seminal German LGBT  film made in 1931 is far more outright and honest about its lesbian story as anything that can be found during the entirety of Hollywood’s studio era (not surprising, but the point remains). And yet, only allowed to be forthright to a point, so much of the sexual chemistry between the two comes from the need to be discreet within the confines of 1930’s cinema. Let us not forget to take into consideration the Prussian authoritative school system the characters inhabit, (which is of equal interest to the storyteller’s motives) and that the love story is one between student and teacher. The two actresses are bursting in their mutual admiration for one another; Manuela is desperate for von Bernburg’s attention. A heavy reliance is put on both actresses ability to express their desire through facial expression, and it is impossible not to feel their yearning. The most is also made of small moments between the two that really make the most of the censorship placed on the filmmakers.

2. James Wilby as Maurice and Hugh Grant as Clive in Maurice (1987)

Not even taking into consideration how refreshingly complex and ever-changing  the relationship between Maurice and Clive is, Wilby and Grant lend repressed sensuality in their realistic portrayal of homosexual men living in the early 20th century. This repressed sensuality threatens to boil over in nearly every scene they share together. They are given different reasons for their purposeful suppression; Clive’s desire to ‘not ruin’ what they have and Maurice’s unwanted compliance to follow Clive’s chaste rule. This makes the tension between the two even more dynamic.

1. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Brian Slade and Ewan McGregor as Curt Wilde in Velvet Goldmine (1998)

At this point I know Velvet Goldmine like the back of my hand (I’ve seen it at least fifty times), so I have had adequate time to throw myself without reserve into the countless moments between these two actors that are nothing less than astonishing in their sexual power. Using Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire” during a certain orgy scene, intercut with pretend-fellatio between the two in an onstage moment, is not exactly a coincidental song choice. I have never seen two people portray the kind of explosive chemistry Meyers and McGregor have together here. So much of their power is through the mutual exchange of glances between the two throughout. They both immediately know what the other has in mind and that understanding makes everything even sexier. The tumultuous relationship allows the two to play a variety of different moments with each other, always with a healthy dose of unbearable lust.