Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #61-66

#61. Wreck-It-Ralph (2012, Moore)

Sweet and endearing film that gets all the big-picture high concept material right on the money. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are a couple of perfect odd-couple outsiders. What the film lacks in nuance it makes up for with heart, Loaded with video-game references that thoroughly went over my head, noted thanks to my boyfriend consistently guffawing at my lack of basic knowledge. There were a couple of wrenches thrown into the plot that pleasantly surprised me. There’s an undefinable feeling that some of the film’s run time could have been put to better utilized but I’m not sure how, and the score felt irritatingly ‘now’. All in all an endearing enjoyable animated feature.


#62. Stoker (2013, Park) Full Review:

Jewel Robbery 2

#63. Jewel Robbery (1932, Dieterle)
Full Review:

Seance on a Wet Afteroon

#64. Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964, Forbes)

My God, what an underappreciated film. I had been wanting to see this for several years, never getting around to it, and even had seen Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s reworking of it, simply called Seance. This did not disappoint at all. The peculiar and attention-grabbing synopsis draws you in, but it’s the intertwining psychosis of the husband and wife that drive the film. Kim Stanley gives one for the ages as the wife whose conviction remains unmovable but whose stability inches closer to oblivion. We try to parse out where that conviction belongs in her world, which Stanley uses to chilling effect as her conviction disguises her stability throughout. Her adamant and soul-cutting demeanor are often targeted at her husband, the weak-willed Attenborough whose dedication and empathy for his wife and her current mental state have driven him to constant reluctant commitment to their plan. Every time he questions, she cuts him down. He can’t get around her. Living in their world of accommodated delusion is a haunting experience.

As great as Stanley is, and it’s hard to put into words just how great, Attenborough captivated me even more. His cold frightened stare, off-putting prosthetic nose and penchant for looking down or away at Stanley make his internal will-he-or-won’t-he-of-course-he-will debate compelling. The focus is often on his reluctance and not on her stability, smartly cementing the necessary balance between the couple into place.

You know this scheme will go wrong. The question is when and how. The answers aren’t quite what I expected and the film is all the better for it. The direction of the story keeps character first, suspense second and uses this prioritization right up to the end. That final scene will stay with you. So will the whole film, a psychological drama that tests the devotion of marriage to its limits.


#65. Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986, Haines & Kaufman)

So this weekend I got to appear as an extra in a music video for Troma’s upcoming Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Lloyd Kaufman appeared in the video and was on-set all day. I figured since I’ve only seen 3 Troma films, I should probably see more. So last night my boyfriend and I sat down and had ourselves a Troma double feature of 2 films I’d been meaning to see for a while. Class of Nuke ‘Em High and The Toxic Avenger.

Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a lot of fun, excelling at that Troma brand of low budget self-aware horror badness. A lot of the comedy in these films comes from the acting. A main Troma trait are reliably awful performances, but I’d actually argue the opposite in many cases. It’s a brand of acting that focuses on self-aware comedy, an art to the bad performance. So many of these actors are able to milk every line for more than their worth. So much enjoyment just comes from this. Fun b-movie schlock, that starts out a lot stronger than it finishes, but still manages to mostly live up to its cult status.


#66. The Toxic Avenger (1984, Herz & Kaufman)

The picture above is of Bozo, aka the greatest character ever. He is a prime example of a performance in which every single line delivery had me in stitches, working within the Troma brand to exaggerate every moment to its fullest potential. This was even more fun, what with the Avenger’s straight-laced superhero voice, the fitness center setting and the extreme moments of gore. Bozo forever.



The Narrow Margin (1952, Fleischer)

The Narrow Margin

From the word go, credits careen towards yo, setting the pace for this bracingly economical, twisty b-noir that knocked my socks off. Not only one of my personal favorite noirs, but now one of my personal favorite films. The majority takes place on a train, from Chicago to Los Angeles, that moving transport full of confined spaces, trapping all major players and conflicts aboard. It’s a pressure-cooker setting that ignites an already dynamite set-up. The train is full of one-trait caricatures we repeatedly run into as Charles McGraw plays musical compartments.

McGraw plays an LAPD officer, has been assigned to protect and escort a mob boss’ widow (Marie Windsor) who plans to testify before a grand jury. They must take a long windy train ride together, and outsmart the men onboard who are there to get a payoff list and murder her. But hours earlier McGraw’s partner Forbes was murdered while escorting Mrs. Neall out of the building and while he mourns and she scoffs, it is clear the two are going to have to work together if they want to get off the train alive.

The tension between the two leads lends to the claustrophobia of the situation. He resents this wholly unpleasant woman for being alive instead of his partner, and she hurls that resentment right back in his face. And that goes double.

Marie Windsor, who I always enjoy seeing, is like a proto-Illeana Douglas. Her Mrs. Neall is a brassy high-wired dame who has no time for ‘weepers’. She tells is straight, expects you to do the same. She has no sympathy for you and she wants bacon, eggs, toast, a bucket of coffee and some cigarettes. Oh, and she likes her bacon crispy. Charles McGraw has a super-serious demeanor that can get some surprising laughs at just the right moments, whether intentional or not.

If you think you know what The Narrow Margin will be, guess again. It moves along at such a snappy pace that you can hardly keep up with the run-ins and it throws in some plot developments that genuinely threw me. It completely overturns gender conventions already implicit within noir that are, additionally, covertly set-up at the beginning of the picture.

Its formal make-up thoroughly impresses. There’s no score, no non-diegetic sounds in The Narrow Margin. This allows the sound design work to be in the forefront; the chug-chug of the train, the scratch-scratch of a nail file. The tension of the tight hallways and corridors is amplified by consistently inventive techniques. There’s some handheld, clever use of reflection that even plays into the plot and a camera that kinetically follows action, not afraid to gets its lens dirty. Clocking in at 71 minutes, this is a vastly underrated blast from the gritty world of 50’s B-noir. A must-see. Who doesn’t love a film mostly set on a train?

Random Observations:
“All robbers carry guns madam”


Reintroductions #21-23. Knife in the Water, The Earrings of Madame De… & Marnie

This year I’m devoting more time to revisiting films I’ve seen only once, a practice I’ve shamefully neglected. My Reintroduction posts are a place for me to jot down some thoughts and observations after revisiting and reading up on each film.

Knife in the Water

#21. Knife in the Water (1962, Polanski)
First Seen in: 2008

I’ve got an alphabetical list of the films I want to revisit. I have a system for picking films at random. I keep going until I land on one I have access to and am in the mood for. So I’m happy to have stumbled on Knife in the Water not so long after revisiting Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. Polanski forgoes dealing with WWII, unlike fellow Polish filmmakers of the time, instead enclosing a trio of characters in an open space of endless pale grays.

People call this a thriller, but I don’t really see it like that. I see it more as a claustrophobic chamber drama of underhanded class competition and male pomposity. I don’t feel a lot of suspense or tension, but more of the feeling of entrapment which I’d say is different than suspense. Petty competition rules the day. The audience is always aware of the body both as a physical form and a sexual one. Pretty much all of the sexual tension here comes from framing and cutting, very rarely from anything actually happening in this regard.

Polanski allows his framing, dialogue, characterization, blocking, movements and changing weather conditions to contribute equally to the overall effect. For a chamber drama, there’s not a lot of talking and there’s no plot. But you get the intended effect when you take everything in especially in the visual sense (this is FILM ya know!). The claustrophobic aspect really comes into play when you consider how difficult it was to film Knife in the Water.

I’m in love with Polanski’s framing; he stretches out and plays with all his possibilities in some really memorable ways. He favors high contrasting the distance between characters in the frame. He’ll often have one character really close in the foreground, hogging a good portion of what we see, with another character(s) comparatively miniscule, visually trumped. It closes us in more, makes us feel the palpable presence of their close proximity through great distance. There are other shots, like the one above that display a single character, often against the dark gray sea and light gray sky (or in this case, the yacht) which emphasizes the body through silhouette. Finally, there are the shots that put all three characters on the same wavelength, like the jackstraws scene.

Polanski’s debut introduces a lot of elements that will pop up again and again in his films. The outsider, non-conformity, chamber pieces, psychological claustrophobia and characters who can be manipulative, cruel and underhanded. It’s a nice touch at the end to realize that either way Andrzej loses. It’s up to us to decide which he’d rather believe.

Earrings of Madame De

#22. The Earrings of Madame De… (1953, Ophuls)
First Seen in: 2010

The Earrings of Madame De… is an example of a film that I admire and glean from as a piece of immaculate filmmaking over anything else. While I enjoyed it more the second time around, the story simply doesn’t grab or engage me the way I want it to. Just one of those things. But as always with the opulent Ophuls, there’s much to focus on even if I merely like it.

Set in that favorite period of the director’s, late 19th century Vienna, rococo decadence is a prison where a world of debts, money and materialism allow no room for actual emotion or depth. All of our characters are caught up in this world even as it is the thing that eventually destroys them.

With Ophuls, it’s always about elaborately naturalistic camera movement (which must have always been supremely difficult but it appears effortless onscreen). The camera is ruled by where the characters move, tracking where they look and where they go, always making sure to keep enough distance in order to capture the over-decorated surroundings. The mere feat of his tracking shots wow to this day. The camera also makes sure that Louise and Donato are intertwined, crossing paths by meeting at the middle. His repeated theme of what becomes of us when love and desire take hold is certainly present here. Suffering for love becomes its own art form.

The earrings of the title at first carry a lot of symbolic importance but little meaning to Louise. By the end, they carry multiple strands of symbolic importance and mean everything to Louise. A symbol first of her marriage, then of her love for Donato. For Andre they represent control and a way to damage and inflict pain if used at the right moment. In fact, the earrings are over-symbolized by these characters. It’s as if they don’t know how to let emotions exist as they are. They must infuse meaning into a shiny material inanimate object.

Danielle Darrieux is nuanced elegance. Charles Boyer is underrated in this as a general whose occupation has trained him to never show his hand and to plan his moves strategically. Vittorio De Sica is the one I attach myself to most. He is gentle and easily lovable, bursting with humanity even while caught up in a somewhat trifling triangle.

Random Observations/Things I Want to Remember:
– The dance montage stands out. Communication can only exist in this world while engaging in public ritual. Even then it takes time to peel away the layers of artifice as we see the barriers drop between the two.
– Louise throwing out the ripped paper

Marnie 2

#23. Marnie (1964, Hitchcock)
First Seen in: 2008

Marnie plays out like Hitchcock’s wet dream, even perhaps over Vertigo, both of which fixate on identity and obsession. His visual arsenal is in peak working condition, creating a brazenly filmic representation of Marnie’s psyche. All the clues to Marnie’s repressed trauma are explicitly depicted, but that’s what’s so voluptuously addictive about it; there’s nothing like Hitch indulging in his artificial but incomparable ‘pure cinema’.

For all the love I have towards Marnie, Hitch bit off more than he could chew in certain regards. He slaps some stirringly dauntless ideas up onscreen without doing anything with them. What I mean of course is the character of Mark, the virile fetishist who gets off on the fact that Marnie is a compulsive thief. Marnie correctly calls him out, accusing him of trapping her like something he’s caught. Sure, he wants to help, but Mark has flaws that Hitchcock thinks his audience will overlook simply because he’s got Sean Connery in the role. This is Marnie’s film to be sure, and the focus needs to be on her, but the master’s need to shine everything through a grotesquely romantic prism goes further to ignore the psychosexual realm that he explores so minutely in Vertigo. Instead, you’ve got a character that rapes Tippi Hedren without us ever dealing with the implications of the assault. And since Mark really does want to help her in his own misguided way, all of his actions by the end feel absolved. Because of his interference, Marnie can start to heal. It dismisses his actions instead of exploring Mark’s delve-worthy characteristics. Hitchcock sets up all the pieces for an equally layered character, only for the layers to lie limp in the aftermath of Mark’s sexual assault.

Tippi Hedren is awe-inspiring in what was only her second film. Marnie is brittle and stunted, covering her frigidity with ‘decent’ manners, a woman who has no identity for herself.  She goes to some exhausting places for this role and the sympathy she arouses makes us desperate for her to have a breakthrough as we inch towards the conclusion. Louise Latham is walking rigidity as Bernice, embodying self-inflicted mental confinement. It’s a theatrical performance, Latham was much younger than Bessie, but since Marnie is in its nature manifest, she fits in like a haunted washed-out glove.

Even with its shortcomings (dropping Diane Baker’s character like a hot pancake and a climax that mostly works despite its touch of falsity are others) Marnie remains one of Hitchcock’s most hypnotic works. He drowns us in signifiers, the color red being the flashiest. But there’s some graceful character work that is easy to miss amidst the flamboyance. So much of Marnie works not just because we care so deeply for her, but because beneath the sheen of formalism, there’s a considerate and layered character study of a woman without an identity to call her own save a love of horses.

Random Observations:
-Bruce Dern as the sailor!
-“Well, I just swan”
– The pivotal sequence with Forio is impossibly expert
– Edith Head’s costumes, particularly for Diane Baker, are great. Always high necklines for Tippi. Always.
– That crane shot at the party that mirrors Notorious
– The only two conventionally suspenseful scenarios Hitchcock has in Marnie is the robbery at Rutland’s and Strutt’s appearance at the party.
– Screenwriter Jay Presson Allen (she was hired after Evan Hunter felt too uncomfortable with the rape scene) says that she doesn’t consider the scene a rape. Just some marital trials. So basically, Jay Presson Allen is fucking out of her mind. Noted.
– Now that I’ve revisited Marnie, I’m finally ready to embark on Hitchcock’s final four films, none of which I’ve ever seen before. How exciting!
– Bernard Herrmann’s score reminds me so much of Leonard Rosenman’s work for Rebel without a Cause that I can’t think of anything else.
– Funnily enough, I placed Marnie and Mark on my list of  Top Ten Heterosexual Couples that Scorched the Screen. I admit I find nothing really romantic between the two. So why did I put them on my list? Click the link to find out!
Top Ten Heterosexual Couples that Scorched the Screen:

Reintroduction Post #5: The Divorcee (1930, Leonard)


Reintroduction Post #5:
The Divorcee (1930, Leonard)
First Seen in: 2008

“I’ve balanced our accounts”. The Pre-Code that started it all, sanctioning women to explore their sexuality freely and defiantly. The Divorcee breaks open the double standards of infidelity, testing limits, turning tables and presenting a progressively symbolic ‘what if’ whose controversy would remain intact for the next several decades of American film. That Norma Shearer leads the audience into this journey of sexual self-discovery is undoubtedly why MGM got away with it. Her wholesome and relatable exterior and demeanor grabs sympathy from the masses of the time.

The Divorcee admittedly suffers from some of the stiltedness of early talkies, most notably the tendency to overload scenes with stagily shot repetitive and excessive dialogue. Jerry’s (Shearer) conflicting impulses in the first half of the film are related to us with conversations that go back and forth. And those early scenes between Jerry and Ted (Chester Morris) being all lovey-dovey are laid on more than a bit thick. “It doesn’t mean a thing” becomes a mantra, something to test sure, but it’s said about twenty times, no joke. My favorite moments from Shearer’s performance though, are the way she underplays those conflicting emotions. She has no grand plan. She’s lost at sea.

The Divorcee 3

Still, it doesn’t much lessen the experience, and The Divorcee remains such a satisfying treatise on issues that remain relevant today even if the shock of their existence has long since worn off, thank goodness. And her fault lies not in the infidelity but that she gave up trying to patch things up with Ted.

I love the plot threads introduced at the beginning and the way they are worked in and picked up again throughout. Chester Morris makes me laugh, even though he’s not really meant to, and is quite entertaining. His slicked back hair, blocky head and bombastic moments are alternately endearing and bullish. But The Divorcee reminded me just how much I adore Robert Montgomery, though I recently watched him in When Ladies Meet. This was his breakout role, as Ted’s best friend Don. He is so memorable, a dapper drunk whose wide-eyed line delivery and subtly quirky facial tics and mannerisms make him the one to watch whenever he’s onscreen, whether speaking or silent. Don is carefree, always looking out for himself, somewhat oblivious, slightly stumbling, with an air of feigned confusion and a put-on of gluttonous sincerity. All in maybe twenty minutes of screentime.

My favorite shot of the film
My favorite shot of the film

My favorite sequence is the wordless three-scenes that very quickly and efficiently show that Jerry has slept with Don. Covered in black and shot openly from the front (a departure for the normally shot-in-left-profile Shearer) in the otherwise bustling nightclub, as Don’s hand creeps into the frame, you know exactly what she’s contemplating. And the way Don looks at her in the club and in the taxi oozes sex. Finally, the curtain closes.

A word about which of Adrian’s costumes stuck out for me. First, the black head-wrap she wears out to the nightclub and second Jerry’s awesome one-piece pajama-suit on the night of her three-year anniversary.

The Divorcee pajama suit

The Divorcee came at a time when acknowledging the idea that women could or would desire or have a sex life was almost completely unheard of, staunchly denied or labeled heathenish. Not only is the film centered on this idea, but links it to marriage, divorce and patriarchal hypocrisy. It was and remains important, ushering in a wave of sensational films filled with sin, repent, and more sin, almost entirely committed by women.

Reintroduction #4: Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, LeRoy)


Reintroduction Post #4:

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933, LeRoy)
First Seen in: 2009

Of all the pre-code Busby Berkeley/Warren & Dubin musicals, Gold Diggers of 1933 packs the biggest socially conscious punch. Bookended with two numbers that directly address the Depression, Mervyn LeRoy makes the meat of his times-are-tough sandwich a romantic fantasy of sorts. Monetary issues plaguing Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon and Ruby Keeler gradually melt away, replaced by playful deception, romantic pairings and always redeemable misunderstandings.

The first part of the bookend is “We’re in the Money” which takes an ironically humorous approach to the era, ending with its disruption by creditors. It’s probably my favorite bit of the film, with Berkeley’s trademark “parade of faces” and its brief foray into a jabberwocky dreamland. That extreme close-up of Ginger Rogers, with the camera pushing in and pushing in, losing focus before regaining it, is one-of-a-kind. With so many other memorable shots that ‘wow’ for the opposite reason, this is the shot for me.

Gold Diggers of 1933

The ‘meat’ of Gold Diggers is the backstage ‘let’s put on a show’ variety, just like all the Berkeley musicals. This also means of course that the song-and-dance numbers take place within the context of the show. No bursting out into song here. Instead, we get outlandish setpieces clearly made for film despite the stage show context, each trying to top the next. “Pettin’ in the Park” has some über-risqué content, including actual nude silhouettes. “Waltz of the Shadows” is top-notch in all its visual details from its intertwining and versatile hoop dresses to the hilly landscape stairs shot from different angles, each making you see the set design in a new light.

It has all been written about Berkeley before, but it really is impossible to emphasize how justifiably cherished his musical numbers are. He created a kind of spectacle that remains his own, unparalleled to any other kind of spectacle on film. There’s never been anything like them and there never will be. He plays with abstraction, with kaleidoscopic shapes and with ever-evolving scenarios. There’s randomness to his ideas. Neon violins? What? Billy Barty as a perverted infant? What? And there’s an appreciation for classical female beauty without it seeming vulgar, despite seriously pushing skin-bearing boundaries even by Pre-Code standards. I still can’t figure out how he accomplishes this.

Gold Diggers of 1933 forgotten man

Berkeley’s setpieces are part of the culminating stage show, which allows his work to exist solely to please the audience, giving him free rein. The film’s plot exists around these setpieces; it for them, not them for it. They don’t push the story forward. They don’t even feature characters from the film; here, those actors exist solely as performers. Berkeley also goes far beyond what would be feasible in an actual stage setting in set scale, transitions and in shot choices, meaning not even the ‘audience’ in the theater can fully appreciate what they see. His work is standalone, existing for us and only us. We are hypnotized and transported as a result.

The story itself is fun, fast-paced and quick-witted, everything you expect from Warner Brothers musicals of the time. Joan Blondell, always the sparkling firecracker, remains a highlight of pre-codes from this studio. My favorite material is when she and Warren William take over the narrative. “Cheap and vulgar. Cheap and vulgar. Cheap and vulgar.” Too good. William is so damn fantastic here as is character actor Guy Kibbee. And Aline MacMahon manages to upstage Blondell at least in the firecracker department. Her relentless schtick greatly entertains. Of course, there’s never enough Ginger Rogers who became an expert in the language of glamor-snark with these early supporting roles. I used to adore Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell as a teenager. Now, I admit I’m pretty weary of them but they are a reliable source of comfort in these films, always true to their formula, even if they are consistently my least favorite element.


At the other end of the bookend is “Forgotten Man” which is what the entire film leads up to. LeRoy and the screenwriters make sure it is built up with mentions to the number and its purpose throughout. It closes the film, though I believe it was originally meant to be the first number but Jack Warner decided to switch the two. We don’t even go back to the frivolous romantic comedy. Just as you’ve lost yourself in Berkeley’s shapes and synchronicity, Warner slams you with Blondell’s bottom dollar prostitute. Straits are so dire, it has even infiltrated purified escapist cinema; now what do you say to that? The normally fantastical world of the musical, especially in the earlier decades of film, is used here to acknowledge not just the state of things, but specific groups that were boldly political to highlight such as the plight of women and war veterans left adrift despite giving so much to their country.

I need to watch 42nd Street again (I’ve seen it twice) to see which I prefer, but Footlight Parade will always remain my favorite Warner Brothers Busby Berkeley musical because the presence of James Cagney is unbeatable by a mile as far as I’m concerned. But that shouldn’t be seen as something lacking in Gold Diggers, which is just as pleasurable now as it must have been then.

Viewings and Rewatches: Jan. 27- Feb. 2nd

We’ll see how long I can keep this going for. I’m trying to write a little about each new-to-me film and each rewatch I do this year. They are meant to be pretty informal, some may be longer and some may only have a few sentences. But it’s important for me to engage more with each film I see, to not just watch it and move on. I think people in general have gotten into a habit of multitasking while they watch films (actually multitasking is a fabulous and horrible trait of my generation), which can be fine in the right circumstances (live-tweets is one of several examples) or if you just want something for the background, but generally it’s a huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t know where I was going with this since it doesn’t apply to me, but there you go. Once in a while I’ll expand a rewatch or viewing to a full post, but for now, I’ll be pasting in my thoughts on films throughout the week on tumblr and compile them into a weekly posting here.

New-to-Me Viewings:

Whisper of the Heart

#17. Whisper of the Heart (1995, Kondo): A

How did it take me so long to see this? As a Studio Ghibli fanatic I have zero excuses. My top three Ghibli films would be Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and this; no small accomplishment. A wonder and an all-time favorite, it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Unbeatable as a coming-of-age story. Shizuku’s musters along in life, a little lazy but going about her days consuming books. She transitions into having a willful desperate need to find a creative place for herself in the world so as not to get left behind by Seiji. ‘Country Roads’ has new meaning. The Baron and the clock and the shiny rough stone. I love that she follows the cat because it feels ‘like the beginning of a story’. Like all Ghibli, it’s fucking gorgeous. Rare in its non-fantasy but still finds ways to inject magic. I couldn’t be more in love with this.


#18. Saboteur (1942, Hitchcock): B-

A lesser version of Hitchcock’s other ordinary-man-on-the-run films but still with much to admire. Worth noting what he reworks into his fabric from previous films made in England and what he would use as a blueprint of films made much later in his career. The only major place it suffers is that other perfected versions of this story exist in his filmography (North by Northwest and my favorite Hitch film The 39 Steps to name a couple), casting a pall over what is otherwise a very entertaining feature. Could stand to be a bit tighter. There’s some great stuff here thought; the fire, the sequences at the Statue of Liberty and Radio City Music Hall, etc. The ballroom scene was my personal favorite; the idea that you are in mortal danger despite being surrounded by oblivious people who are both useless and enjoying themselves. Hitch wasn’t happy with the unauthorized casting of his leads. Sure, if you wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck who wouldn’t be disappointed, and I’ll agree that Robert Cummings is merely fine, but I thought Priscilla Lane worked out quite nicely. Lots of supporting players that make their mark more. Norman Lloyd stood out.


fallen idol

Rewatch #1: The Fallen Idol (1948, Reed)
First Seen in: 2009

Macgregor! This is a film I own and its status as a favorite of mine was confirmed. A primary example of a film seen from a child’s perspective. Carol Reed concocts a unique and magnificent performance out of Bobby Henrey. He is always preoccupied, always distracted but aware on a subconscious level the levity of what is happening. It might be my favorite child performance in film and much of this has to do with the fact that it isn’t really a performance. He couldn’t act and apparently had the attention span of a ‘demented flea’ as a Reed colleague puts it. And you can tell. You can see that a performance isn’t exactly taking place but the reward is the kid’s unbelievable natural abilities and how carefully and painstakingly Reed was able to get certain reaction shots and line readings out of him. He’s more like a kid than any kid I’ve seen in the movies and that comes with all of his more obnoxious qualities. How about that 10 minute chunk where he just answers “No!” to everything he is asked? Classic stuff.

Reed uses tilted angles effectively and in all the right moments, usually when pressure is mounting on Phillipe. This is his domestic situation. His parents are absent and so he gets dragged into the indiscretions of his idol Baines the butler. In Mrs. Baines he has the first villain to enter his life, whose treatment of him will surely scar indefinitely. That scene where she pops up at his bedside is terrifying. The set design by Vincent Korda with its heights and spirals is ideal for memorable perspective shots as the boy looks down, so distant are the complicated entanglements of adults. And throughout the film, all of the adults, even the good ones, use Phillipe.

dance girl dance

Rewatch #2: Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, Arzner)
First Seen in: 2007

Easily my favorite Lucille Ball film role (although I do love her in Lured). Bubbles has got to be one of the best characters ever and Ball OWNS it. This is an early feminist film filtered through a conventional narrative and told by director Dorothy Arzner in ways that are subtly insightful and ahead of its time. Ball’s Bubbles uses her sexuality and ‘oomph’ to move up in the world while Maureen O’Hara’s Judy has what it takes but her nice girl work ethic just ain’t going to get her ahead. What I love is that while Bubbles takes on the villain role a couple of times, she is really seen as someone who is simply using what she has and the film doesn’t condemn her for that. Among her selfish qualities are smarts and strategy and she’s even willing to throw a bone to her friends when she can. Then put her next to Judy, who can be insufferable at times. Always carrying around Ferdinand? What are we, 2? There’s a surprising complexity with Bubbles. Arzner focuses on the act of looking during the burlesque number and at all other opportunities. That cigar-chomping fella seemingly in a trance in an early scene sticks out as the prime example. And the film is damn entertaining.

Cat People

Rewatch #3. Cat People (1942, Tourneur)
First Seen in: 2005

So many startling shots in this film, but I expect nothing less from a Lewton/Tourneur collaboration. This is often considered the best of the Lewton produced films at RKO and I’m inclined to agree. Second to this for me would be the woefully underrated The Leopard Man. I didn’t take to I Walked with a Zombie *dodges tomatoes*. I’ve seen all the rest except The Curse of the Cat People and Bedlam. 7/9; not bad!

Rampant with symbolism and psychology, a study of female sexuality, there is a lot going on here worth discussing but my one measly rewatch doesn’t begin to dig into it. But this is a lot about the instilled inseparability between sexuality and shame among much much more. I love that Simone Simon is our monster and victim. We not only feel badly for her, but we feel really badly for her. She’s stunning and erotic but also childlike and innocent, a really difficult combination of traits to embody and not a mix you see often.

Cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca to die for. Other characters are a heap of nincompoops. They start off okay enough but you grow more and more disdainful of Oliver and Alice for not being able to figure their interpersonal shit out in the many years of their friendship. Alice is definitely a bit predatory too. She means well for Oliver but I found her absolutely calculating in moments of self-serving opportunity. And Dr. Judd is the worst psychiatrist ever. Ugh. What a fucking leech.

List: Top 30 Favorite Films of 2012 (#15-1)

Here you go! My top 15 films of 2012. I hope everyone has enjoyed my year-in-review in list form.
Part One (#30-16):
Top 25 Performances and Top 10 Song Usages:
The Top Fives in 2012 Film:
What I’ll Remember About The Films of 2012: A Personal Sampling:
The 10 Worst Films I Saw:
10 of the Worst Film Posters:
Top 20 Film Posters:

This is Not a Film15. This is Not a Film (Iran, Panahi)

“The immediate affinity that we feel for Panahi somehow heightens this already heartbreaking human rights issue. He comes off as kind, mild, realistic and emotionally beaten down by his circumstances (though this work’s existence proves him as anything but). We immediately care for him, beyond the empathy inherent in the situation. To say this film should be seen is an understatement; it must be seen. This statement has been made many times in relation to this film but I make it again; if you care about cinema, about the right we have to tell stories and why we tell them, and about human rights, you must seek out This Is Not a Film.”

Full Review:

Rust and Bone

14. Rust and Bone (France, Audiard)

Can’t get enough Jacques Audiard. Another triumph from him which sees the French director known for combining auteur arthouse with genre backbone challenge himself with a ludicrous sounding plot. What would have been sentimental puddy in other hands becomes a raw and erotic character-driven story about the cold hard fact of physicality in all its damaging scarred forms.


13. The Secret World of Arrietty (Japan, Yonebayashi)

This is one of the Studio Ghibli films that falls into the category of relaxed. So many kids films today are bursting with structured story; places to go, people to see, villains to defeat and conflicts to be resolved. There is something about Ghibli films that, even when those plot elements are front and center, hardly ever seems in a hurry. We get a chance to take in the sights, sounds and characters; to breathe in their world for a little while. Most considered this to be minor Ghibli (based on its under-the-radar resonance), but its tranquility, reliably minute attention to everyday objects and the conflicting attitudes of its two young protagonists left me full of warmth and gratitude.


12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (USA, Chbosky)

High school movies pretty much suck now. Let’s face it. I read ‘Perks’ several years ago and liked it enough despite wishing I had read it as an adolescent. Stephen Chobsky’s adaptation of his own novel threw me for a loop with its depiction of teenage angst with an honest light-shedding evocation. Logan Lerman is a revelation, taking a character that could have been portrayed as a typical shy kid and making his anxiety both palpable and justifiably crippling. Ezra Miller, in a complete 180 from his character in last year’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, continues to display his near-freakish amount of assured talent. Using the same soundtrack listed in the novel and keeping the early 90’s setting only makes things better. By the end I was crying quite freely and was feeling a lot at once. I was moved by the lived-in group dynamic of these friends as each went their separate way. I was thinking a lot of time past and regrets of my own. Finally, I was moved by how substantial Chbosky had made his own story.


11. The Imposter (UK, Layton)

“In the end, we return to Frederic Bourdin, whose manipulative scheming brought us into this mess with no answers. Ending with transfixing footage of a younger Bourdin dancing, as Layton inserts Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, an image that visual representative of how bizarre these real-life events were. Yet it all starts with the actual disappearance of 13-year old Nicholas Barclay, a child whose unknowable fate looms over us. The Imposter is a stranger than fiction tale that will have you aghast on the edge-of-your-seat; it is truly mind-boggling to watch unfold.”

Full review:


10. Alps (Greece, Lanthimos)

My love affair with Giorgos Lanthimos continues. He’s offbeat and batshit nutty with his high concepts, interested in the inanity of details and ritual as an emotionless made-up structure. What happens when you break the rules, question what you’ve learned and been taught, construct your own reality? With his second feature Alps he looks at elaborate and hollow role-playing and the role grief plays in our lives. How far do simple factoids contribute to identity? What do memories mean to us? Does something as literal as meticulous reenactments ultimately mean the same thing as what remains in our heads? Lanthimos also wheels and deals in many off-kilter framing or scenes that can almost always exist as separate performance pieces that one cannot look away from. And if every film of his can please star Aggeliki Papoulia, this fan would be very grateful.

Sister Meier

9. Sister (Switzerland/France, Meier)

Earns its comparison to Dardenne Brothers, but this is entirely its own work. Ursula Meier’s second film (I’ll be sure to see her first) is a heartbreaking story dealing with an incredibly complex familial bond amidst the glacial whites of the ski resort and the murky brown-blues of the town below. Kacey Mottet Klein stuns. Between this and Farewell, My Queen, Lea Seydoux is one of my new favorite actresses.

How to Survive a Plague

8. How to Survive a Plague (USA, France)

One of the best magnanimous uses of archival footage to be seen in a documentary and an invaluably important film. ‘Plague’ recounts the long-term efforts and struggle of the ACT UP and TAG coalitions during the raging years of the AIDS epidemic. Based almost entirely around archival footage from throughout the years, a narrative unfolds that demonstrates their place in history but also functions as a blueprint of effective activism. You feel and see the desperation, frustration and looming death everywhere you look as the nation failed to take proper care or measure. Thankfully, the doc portrays the activists as human beings and not necessarily saints though they are unspeakably heroic. There were mistakes made and split factions and we get a sense of that as well. It covers many years within two hours and functions as a treasure-trove history capsule of what feels like an apocalypse for the minority that literally puts you in the center of it all.


7. Moonrise Kingdom (USA, Anderson)

“Taking on the children’s perspective also allows Anderson to indulge in the ways we expect him to. These include our titular slow-motion sequence, French New-Wavy touches, Bob Balaban’s narrator who deals in geographical factoids with a this-is-where-it-all-went-down resolve. One could go on and on and on. For example, what would a Wes Anderson movie be without something like Suzy carrying around a Francoise Hardy record in her suitcase?”

“Anderson and Coppola never confirm or deny the permanence of Sam and Suzy as a pair. They seem very likely to move onto other phases and people in their lives. It never dampens the occasion though because all that matters to the filmmakers is the ‘present’ moment and what matters to the characters within the timeframe of the film. Moonrise Kingdom is as enchanting as one of Suzy’s fantasy tales and a triumph both within the scope of Anderson’s career thus far and outside of it.”

Full Review:

The Kid with a BIke

6. The Kid with a Bike (Belgium/France/Italy, Dardenne Brothers)

Speaking of the Dardenne Brothers…I saw The Kid with a Bike in theaters back in March and its depiction of parental abandonment has since embedded itself in me. It gets a Criterion Collection release in February. Young Cyril just wants answers and for things to go back to the way they were, rejecting anything that isn’t what once was. He thinks he can get both from his dad (Jeremie Renier really has a knack for playing shitty fathers) but he can’t. He is fighting for a domestic haven that no longer exists, and seemingly never existed, but he is too young to see the hopelessness of his want. In Samantha the hairdresser Cyril has someone who has taken him under his wing, but he clings to the past and searches for an older male figure no matter who it is. The Kid with a Bike is about what it might take to newly ground a young boy stuck in an underpass of denial and indignation. Is Cecile de France’s Samantha up to the task?


5. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012, Hertzfeldt)

Terrence Malick with stick figures; this is often how Don Hertzfeldt’s existential trilogy of Everything will Be OK, I Am So Proud of You and It’s Such a Beautiful Day is described. They aren’t wrong. Us fans of the innovative animator had been waiting for this final installment and he delivers a profound wrap-up to a profound trilogy. The title here refers to all three which screened together as It’s Such a Beautiful Day. I don’t even know how to go about describing Hertzfeldt’s work here except that the man is making strides in animation experimentation that most can only dream of; and all on his own to boot. That Bill is an everyman only increases the universality of it. He is getting at something that you feel in your gut. Through the beauty, use of classical music, morbid humor, deadpan yet wandering narration and jumpy structure he is getting to the heart of something (yeah I’ll use the word yet again here) profound.


4. Oslo August 31st (Norway, Trier)

My top four this year are all on the same tier. I went back and forth, back and forth between what to put where and in the end, the rankings are even more arbitrary than usual.

“What makes Oslo stand apart from other ‘drug addiction’ films is that it is not about the struggle to stay clean. It is about what one is left with after the fact and questioning the point of continuing. Anders has money, friends, family, looks and talent. But when addiction comes to define and ruin, at the end of the day, what is left when a layer of disconnect invades him, his former haunts and his interactions with others? That ever-palpable ‘why bother’ and the honesty with which it ponders this question is what stood out for me most in Trier’s sophomore triumph.”

Full Review:


3. The Master (USA, Anderson)

Just to warn you, in case you haven’t figured it out, the top of my list follows the pack as far as many critics and film buffs go. Remarkably more divisive than anyone ever expected, The Master works for me because of how badly I itch to dig into its opaqueness. It explicitly juggles many themes in its post-war setting but its cyclical inconclusiveness has perplexed many. That inconclusiveness seems to be a statement within itself and it roots its wandering narrative into the push-pull dichotomous relationship between Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Entirely their own characters even as they represent two opposing abstractions of a whole, these two cock their heads and wonder about the other. What can he do for me? Can I fix him? Can he fix himself? There is a lot that Paul Thomas Anderson muses with his latest and while it feels more intrinsic than deliberate, that is the very thing that lends it an endless curiosity. At any stage of his career, Anderson’s films feel like nobody else’s from every standpoint. Where else will you ever see a performance like Joaquin Phoenix’s? I cherish everyone’s contributions to this work like the lucky recipient I am. Yes indeed, blind cultish worship is my drink of choice.

Holy Motors

2. Holy Motors (France/Germany, Carax)

Giddy. Holy Motors made me giddy like a kid in an ever-varied candy store. It manages to be everything at once, mixing and melding genres for brief interludes before moving onto the next. All of this is under the guise of the science-fiction world Carax creates that sees ‘Monsieur Oscar’ (Denis Lavant) taking on different personas over the course of one day. The film hovers over reality like a hawk, zeroing in for flashes before resuming its place in the fantastical ether. Its pretext reads as a statement on the nature of cinema itself but what makes Holy Motors the wonder it is is that it filters this statement in a way that never approaches self-seriousness. It alternates between tones that are touching, bonkers, gently sad, bonkers, morbidly funny and let’s not forget bonkers. There’s a moment towards the end that is the height of hilarity and simultaneous sadness, a genuinely shocking moment the likes of which I have never seen. I cannot get Holy Motors out of my head. It is deliriously entertaining at times, providing me with the rare thrill of having no idea where I’d be taken next.


1. Amour (Austria/France/Germany, Haneke)

When I first heard Michael Haneke’s next film was called Amour I laughed out loud. Was this a joke? Haneke? Love? Surely the title is ironic. But no. The Austrian provocateur matches his clinical and icy detachment to a compassionate and uncompromising story of the slow process of disintegration and death. This is a masterpiece and it is no hyperbole that it has etched itself into the essential canon in no time at all. It feels permanent. It feels vital. Films about old age are often saccharine. This is wholly unsentimental yet filled with feeling. This is a delicate beautiful script with impeccable framing. The low-key lighting houses these two in a comforting warmth as Anne drifts away. It has two performances for the ages. Brave doesn’t begin to cover the places Emmanuelle Riva goes.

Assuming we make it to old age, we’re all headed here folks. Whether you have your loved one supporting you or not. This is what the end is like. This is about seeing the person you’ve spent your life with slipping away from you in mind and body. This is about losing all dignity and sense of self. This is about seeing yourself become a wisp. This is about losing all control. But it is also about the love and devotion that goes hand in hand with the suffering.

This was the most difficult film I watched all year. Haneke’s eye makes for a brutal but honest and earnest viewing experience. I spent the last half hour in various states of hyperventilation. No, seriously. It gave me a minor panic attack. I was having trouble breathing. At a certain point it just overwhelms because it feels so definitive.

Films Seen This Year: Haywire, The Woman in Black, Gerhard Richter Painting, The Secret World of Arietty, Found Memories, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Raid: Redemption, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Miss Bala, Cabin in the Woods, The Imposter, 2 Days in New York, Wuthering Heights, Paul Williams Still Alive, Damsels in Distress, The Queen of Versailles, The Avengers, Beauty is Embarrassing, This is Not a Film, The Kid with a Bike, Take This Waltz, Polisse, Prometheus, The Grey, Headhunters, Brave, Moonrise Kingdom, The Intouchables, Chronicle, Mirror Mirror, The Deep Blue Sea, Bullhead, Shut Up and Play the Hits, John Carter, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunter, Oslo, August 31st, Bachelorette, The Moth Diaries, Bernie, Indie Game: The Movie, V/H/S, Side by Side, Kill List, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Attenberg, Snow White and the Huntsmen, God Bless America, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Master, Silent House, The Innkeepers, Dark Shadows, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looper, Frankenweenie, ATM, The Tall Man, Argo, The Sound of My Voice, Girl Model, Seven Psychopaths, Red Lights, Klown, The Woman in the Fifth, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Michael, Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Girl, Cloud Atlas, Elena, Monsieur Lazhar, Holy Motors, Skyfall, Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina, Lincoln, Marina Abromovic: The Artist is Present, Alps, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Cosmopolis, Sound of Noise, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Girl Walk//All Day, Your Sister’s Sister, The Invisible War, The Central Park Five, The Loneliest Planet, Killer Joe, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, A Royal Affair, Sleepwalk with Me, Compliance, Searching for Sugar Man, Farewell, My Queen, Sleep Tight, Barbara, The Paperboy, Dredd, Sister, Lawless, In Another Country, The Day He Arrives, Zero Dark Thirty, Rust and Bone, I Wish, Amour

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 2012: A Personal Sampling

My look back at the year in film continues. A newfangled idea was to write a bit about the details, those little specificities that defined the year for me. I’m trying to find a way to display some of the random things that stood out for me and to summarize what I’ll be taking from this year. There will be other lists coming up with which to do that, but I figure this was worth giving a try. Obviously this is just a sampling. Otherwise it would’ve turned into everything I liked and didn’t like about every film I liked and didn’t like. There’s plenty of room in the other lists for everything to get its due recognition.


— Discovering the music of Rodriguez via Searching for Sugar Man

— Liking the big blockbusters that so many others ripped to shreds (Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, by far my favorite of the trilogy)

— The hand-to-hand combat scenes in The Raid: Redemption

Amour causing fits of hyperventilation

don hertzfeldt coolidge corner theatre

— Seeing Don Hertzfeldt at the Coolidge Corner screening of It’s Such a Beautiful Day

— This actually happened! Think about that… (Compliance and Zero Dark Thirty)

— How much does marketing construct our expectations? (Brave and Looper)


— The concoction that is Freddie Quell (The Master)

— Seeing enough of Lea Seydoux, Matthias Schoenaerts, Aggaliki Papoulia, Mads Mikkelsen, Anders Danielsen Lie (who is a medical doctor?!?!?!?!?!) and Sarah Gadon to consider them among my new favorite actors

— Becoming a Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum fan (Killer Joe, Bernie, 21 Jump Street, Haywire)

— The painstaking process of the artist in documentaries (Gerhard Richter Painting, Beauty is Embarassing, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Indie Game: The Movie, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and heartbreakingly in This is Not a Film)

— The first Quentin Tarantino film I didn’t love (Django Unchained)


— Directors feeling the need to distract and/or partially ruin their films with their own presence. I’m looking at you Tarantino and Maiwenn. To the latter; the centralization of your character kept Polisse from being one of my favorites this year.

— The rare thrill of having no idea what will happen next and the absurdist surreal invention that makes up Holy Motors

— The jaw-dropping narrative of The Imposter and getting to experience it with a sold-out audience in a state of collective disbelief at IFFBoston

Take This Waltz and resulting life decisions

— A gay animated character (Paranorman)

Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook leaving me adrift and still conflicted with my thoughts (The former was beautiful and lyrical but also kind of uncomfortable us vs. them poverty porn where the latter was thoroughly entertaining but can’t get away with depicting love as a cure-all for mental illness and having its characters make crucial decisions I don’t buy)

— Docs How to Survive a Plague and The Invisible War shaking, horrifying and moving me to my core

— Jessica Chastain’s wardrobe and lack of wardrobe in Lawless

— Child actors astound everywhere you turn (Moonrise Kingdom, The Kid with a Bike, Sister, Looper, Michael, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Monsieur Lazhar, I Wish, Wuthering Heights)


— The darkly humorous parade of spiraling stupidity (Killer Joe)

— The smorgasbord of Les Miserables (Great songs, distracting Dutch angles and incessant close-ups, me crying at parts but also hating a lot of the final half because Marius/Eponine/Cosette are the worst. My most erratic theatrical experience this year)

— Having the main character in Michael, a pedophile, remind me of Buster Bluth and distracting me for its entire runtime


— The continued mourning of not having gone to LCD Soundsystem’s last show (Shut Up and Play the Hits)

— Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy have better chemistry than you and anyone you know (The Intouchables)

— The pristine detail of the off-kilter black-and-white design of Frankenweenie’s world

— The first prison visit scene in The Paperboy showing me something I’ve never seen before


— Merida’s life-of-its-own red mane (Brave)

— Being reminded that boredom is worse than car-crash bad (Numerous offenders)

— Bringing the moors to muddy naturalistic life (Wuthering Heights)

— Falling for the first half of Wuthering Heights like a lifelong soul mate only to loath the final hour

— Seann William Scott? Giving a good performance? Surely you jest (Goon)


— The META-SPECTACLE of Anna Karenina

— Film vs. digital (Side by Side)

— When it soars, it soars…regarding the best moments of Cloud Atlas

Sinister not giving me a moment’s rest

Nothing better than an excellent costume drama; they’re like porn. (Anna Karenina, A Royal Affair, Farewell, My Queen)


— The bizarre daytime strolls of Attenberg

— Falling in love with Sara Paxton and her character in The Innkeepers more than any in years. She makes slapstick comedy out of taking out the trash.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower filling me with all the bittersweet in the world

— Eiko Ishioka single-handedly getting me through Mirror, Mirror with her whimsical fairy-tale couture

ARRIETTY un film de Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Last but not least, Arietty’s room in The Secret World of Arrietty

Double Features Seen This Year:
This is Not a Film/The Kid with a Bike
Silver Linings Playbook/Anna Karenina
Moonrise Kingdom/The Intouchables
Argo/Girl Model
The Exorcist/The Thing

Review: Girl Model (2012, Redmon & Sabin)

Always lingering in the back of the mind while watching the new documentary Girl Model is the opening sequence, featuring scores of barely-clad teenage girls in Siberia being strutted forth like cattle in order to be critiqued as they fight for the decidedly awful position young Nadya Vall finds herself in.

Girl Model takes a cinema vérité approach, which just happens to be my favorite kind of documentary. It may have a distance that prevents a true excavation of the issue at hand, but the tip-of-the-iceberg strategy works better because of the narrow first-hand look that we do get. We don’t have to be geniuses to conclude that these are not regionally restricted issues. I’ll take a documentary that is constricted but more intimate over a broad but deeply investigational doc any day of the week.

At 13 years old, Nadya is a blank slate. She describes herself as a plain “grey mouse”, but she’s at an age where everything is unformed, as up for grabs as it gets. She doesn’t know who she is or who she wants to be; but is at that point where possible answers to such big picture questions will begin to emerge. What she does know is that home life is unfulfilling and she wants to expand her horizons, experience the otherness of city-life and help support her family. Nadya isn’t exactly compelling subject fodder, that is precisely what makes her cipher-like representational qualities all the more resonant. She’s just one out of a never-ending number searching for a needle in a haystack. Lucky for her, she fits the pre-pubescent aesthetic the Japanese market so preciously covets.

The involvement of her parents is a tricky one. Sure, they love and care about her. Yet they pin their hopes of rebuilding their house on the money they expect their daughter to make abroad. They do not suspect being had, but the central action of sending their barely teenage daughter to Japan by herself is hard to justify and even harder not to judge even if modeling is seen as an ‘only way out’ option to strive for.

The well-oiled scamming machine these modeling agencies demonstrate is more than a little reprehensible if not at all surprising. And surely Noah Models represents neither the best nor worst of the bunch. Certain agencies must at least adhere to some kind of respectable age range and/or not employ largely exploitative contractual obligations. On the other side of the coin, modeling scout Ashley Arbaugh speaks of the elephant in the room, underage prostitution, as something that is relatively commonplace for agencies to engage in simultaneously. Of course, in typical Ashley fashion, she absolves herself of complicity by stating that while she knows of this trend within the industry, she stays away from those kinds of transactions. She then doubles back, pondering whether modeling at that age is somehow harder than prostitution. Ahh, but that’s Ashley for ya; more on her later. The central issue at hand in Girl Model is in the title; 13 is an irreparably damaging age for girls to be throwing themselves, and all of their hopes and dreams, into this industry.

This  vérité approach of directors David Redmon and A. Sabin make the topic’s girth of humanistic and developmental evils readily apparent. Nadya is abandoned at the airport, left to figure out where she is staying despite being in another country alone and unable to speak the language. For two months she is schlepped around to go-sees where she is judged and subsequently not chosen, all while being further isolated by the language barrier. She does intermittent photoshoots but is not paid for them (despite being supposedly promised a minimum of $8,000 worth of work in the contract) or given any access to the people who hired her. Her apartment is dingy and she is left to support herself, putting her and her family into debt. The contracts at the agency are purposely elusive, and in English, giving Noah total control and the model none. Nadya is depicted as a deer caught in the headlights for the film’s entirety. Exhausted, confused and hurt, she just wants to go home.

Ashley Arbaugh, who suggested the subject of the documentary to the directors, is an odd duck. An odd and almost impossibly self-absorbed duck who sees the doc as a twisted vanity project. As a teenager, she tried her hand at modeling, going to Japan just like the girls she recruits. She loathed it and kept a video diary that, as far as the chosen clips suggest, support her claims of misery. Yet she stays in the industry, now making promises she knows will not be kept to other young girls. Her business associates are troubling men. One is Tigran, a skeevy slimeball of a man who has convinced himself he is educating these girls in a biblical kind of calling. He goes so far as to bring the “hard-headed’ ones to the morgue to look at fallen youths and occasionally to witness an autopsy…? Yeah, I couldn’t tell you the logic behind it either; everything about him is vague. His appearances are bizarrely manufactured in a way the filmmakers cannot get a handle on or control (based on interviews with the directors, this was certainly the case). His agency, whatever part he has in it, is a machine. All we know about a Japanese businessman we meet is that he evades questions that are asked of him by the documentarians and that he, as Ashley says with clear discomfort, “likes girls”.

Ashley is a diametrically opposed combination of completely narcissistic and a hot mess of insecurity-driven denial. Most of her used interview footage has her talking about not being passionate about what she does, her hardships in the industry, and that her associates do not know or care what she does as long as she “brings them the girls”. She is a fascinating figure, not for the reasons she would hope for, who makes a living lying through her teeth to others and herself. What makes her even more of an oddity is the way she evidently thinks her present-day confessionals reek of honesty, when in fact they just read as an ever-contradicting headspace of self-justification. Hell, she can’t even face the cameras at any point in the film, always obliquely looking off into space, talking herself out of moral quandaries.

The money and flexible schedule is worth it to her, even if it comes at the cost of living in a haze of denial. Her glass house is empty and barren with nothing on the walls. She very much lives in her own world, at times speaking of things that must only make sense to her. Those creepy-ass dolls for one thing, which have a normalized place in her universe. Not to mention the endless snapshots of models feet. Does she have friends? Or are her only interactions with her business partners? Granted, we’re only seeing one sliver of this woman’s life, but gracious me does hers feel like a lonely existence going off the evidence provided.

The highlight of the film comes when the two halves of the fly-on-the-wall narrative intersect. Ashley goes to check in on Nadya and fed up roommate Madlen. It is the only time we see her check in on the girls, but it is unclear what other kind of contact they have with members from the agency. It is the kind of awkward scene that comes around once in a blue moon. It is so awkward that uncomfortable laughter became a side effect. There is something morbidly funny seeing Ashley squirm, trying to save face by purposely misreading Madlen’s somewhat broken but serviceable English and subsequently having nothing to say. And there is also something morbidly funny in Madlen purposely exploiting the awkwardness, trying to make Ashley uncomfortable while shooting her death-stares.

The end of Girl Model suggests an inevitably morose and frustrating continuation of the cycle. Were Nadya’s experiences not all bad? Does she just think there are no other options? Unsurprisingly, Nadya (who hasn’t seen the film but heard of its content) and the agency are appalled with the way they were depicted. There were even some disturbing allegations thrown around that feel like mud-slinging, but bare mentioning all the same. Rachel, a 23-year old model, pops up in the film from time to time to frankly discuss the problems that plague the modeling industry.

Many others like Rachel have defended the film saying it struck a personal and familiar chord with their experiences and confirmed the accuracy of the issues addressed. Girl Model unsettlingly tackles the unregulated meat market aspects of modeling with a digestible tip-of-the-iceberg approach that slaps a face on the roles of the recruiter and the recruited.

There are a couple of fascinating interviews with the directors, who talk about the struggle of making a documentary while having the controlling Ashley Arbaugh as a middlewoman:

Review: Sinister (2012, Derrickson)

IMDB Summary: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Horror films tend to firmly root themselves in their respective subgenre of choice. Sinister is a kind of hybrid film that blends current trends of found footage with peripheral creaky house thrills rolled up in a supernatural mythology package. Taking place almost entirely in one setting, its eeriness operates on several different levels, the most startling of which is the grainy Super-8 reels that Ethan Hawke’s hopelessly narcissistic character happens upon.

The slow burn investigation hashes out the discoveries in digestible doses. A lot of the expositional backstory in these kinds of films can become quickly convoluted, somehow being overly complicated and all-too familiar. Ghost wants revenge? No way! But Sinister keeps the mystery going and comes up with a tale that’s familiar in its Horror 101 structure, but is still just original enough to remain compelling. It slowly ratchets up tension using escalating repetition. In the case of the Super-8 films, we know what is going to happen in each one, but the suspense is driven through the question of ‘how?’ and the unsettling normalcy that occurs at the beginning of each. Every time Hawke hears creaks and bumps, something slightly more alarming occurs each time. And as the film progresses, his two children become more and more affected by their surroundings.

Grounding, and in fact elevating, all of this is Ethan Hawke who has a habit of making films better with his presence. His casting is crucial since a lot of Sinister is a one-man show. Can he just be in everything? Playing the only developed character, (the others can be boiled down to loyal and concerned wife, creative daughter and typical teenage boy) the writers do something pretty shrewd with his characterization. Ellison is trying to build his ‘legacy’, as he arrogantly puts it. His only true-crime bookselling smash was ten years ago. Two duds later and he’s back at square one, only with added desperation. He moves his family into the house where the crime he’s investigating took place, without telling them by the way. Basically the fella’s an asshole.

The screenwriters use his arrogance, drive and desperation to act as the answer to all of those ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t go in the attic you fucking idiot!’ exclamations we so often have in horror films. Where other films use par for the course logic to excuse its characters’ ceaselessly poor judgment, screenwriters Scott Derrickson (also director) and C. Robert Cargill make us understand why Ellison makes the very silly decisions he does.

There is one type of scare employed in Sinister which did not work for me; the ever-popular creepy children. It is employed pretty heavily towards the end, which causes some of the tension to somewhat evaporate. The spooky kid trope can really get under the skin but the problem is it so rarely works. And what’s worse is that it is used all the time. Writers seem to think that dead-eyed innocents are an automatic scare-tactic win but it demands precise execution. In this regard, Sinister doesn’t have the goods and it becomes distracting at points. But it has so much else working in its favor for this to do too much damage.

It must be said that the throbbing industrial score by Christopher Young is easily one of the best scores I have heard this year. It pulsates through each scene, subtly switching it up in some surprising ways. Derrickson’s use of darkness, space and sound are consistently disquieting.

Sinister is without a doubt the scariest film I have seen in quite some time. It finds ways to disturb without resorting to gore and much of its imagery makes quite a lasting impression. It had me actively stressed, often dodging center screen with my eyes in jittery anticipation. Only when I left the theater did I realize just how tense my body had been throughout. When a film can get me that on-edge, all shortcomings be damned. Sinister more than gets the job done.