Top Ten By Year: 1978 – 10 Honorable Mentions plus Grease


I just started a second job so it’ll take a little while for the final Top Ten By Year post for 1978 to be written and go up (and then on to 1925!) Accompanied with that post will be a full list of the 1978 films I’ve seen and a Blind Spots list. For now, here are my ten honorable mentions. I always list and briefly write about five honorable mentions in my Top Ten By Year posts, but for 1978 and 1992 desperate times called for desperate measures. I’ve fallen in love with so many 1978 releases, which, of course is a great ‘problem’ to have. The fact that Violette Noziere, Pretty Baby and Long Weekend couldn’t even make the honorable mentions post shows how crowded this year was.

These 10 (plus Grease!) films are in alphabetical order

FTV = First Time Viewing
RW = Rewatch
LTF = Long Time Favorite 

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Autumn Sonata/Höstsonaten (Sweden, Bergman) (RW)
I figured that Ingmar Bergman’s mother-daughter showdown was a sure bet for my final ten. The Magician made my 1958 list even though I far prefer this over that. But 1958 was a different template with different scales.

Autumn Sonata could also be called ‘The Meeting of the Bergmans’. This was the one and only collaboration between Ingmar and Ingrid, and it carried a finality for both (it was the director’s last exclusively theatrical release and the star’s final feature film appearance). The familial chamber drama pits mousy neglected daughter Eva (Liv Ullman) against her famous pianist mother Charlotte (Bergman) after a lifetime of pent-up resentment and stunted emotional baggage. The toxic and frayed dynamic shows itself through the film’s bifurcated halves. An initial impenetrable barrier of niceties and separate stirrings gives way to one fateful evening when Eva’s charges against Charlotte spill out in hyperventilating fits of anger; the director’s penchant for inescapable close-ups carries through all.

Ullman plays the final half  of Autumn Sonata as if possessed by the distilled anxiety of her child-self; the mere presence of Charlotte triggers an uncontrollable summoning bigger than herself. Eva’s collapse into memory is so total that presentational single-image flashbacks make their way into the film. Gradually, the accusations against Charlotte become more and more vague, unformed, and even off the mark. By the end, we’ve seen something possibly irreparable, almost delusional, take place. Changed but not changed.

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Dawn of the Dead ( US/Italy, Romero) (RW)
For a horror film so universally worshiped, it’s easy to forget how peculiar the squib-filled Dawn of the Dead really is. It’s these peculiarities that so strongly lure me to it. The ragtag family of four. The zombies with an unsophisticated chalky blue tint on their cadaverous skin. The inevitable reclamation of consumerist domesticity as a mode of denial. The boldly goofy shifts in tone. The irreverent and hassle-free shopping montages. And spearheading all of this is the headstrong smoothness of Ken Foree as Peter, quite possibly my favorite male horror flick protagonist. This is George Romero at the peak of his powers.

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Drunken Master (Hong Kong, Yuen) (FTV)
1978 was the year Jackie Chan’s career catapulted to stardom with Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Replacing Bruce Lee as Hong Kong’s top box-office star, Chan molded his early screen persona as a scrappy underdog with acrobatic prowess, “comically exaggerated panic”(Bordwell, “Planet Hong Kong”), and an ever-resourceful reliance on slapstick. In the ludicrously fun Drunken Master, he plays the not with assured capability, but with a deer-in-headlights expression and the illusion that he is frantically grabbing any props within reach to defeat his opponent. Watching him feels like a sort of onscreen miracle, and every time I see a Jackie Chan film I marvel at his genius anew.

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Eyes of Laura Mars  (US, Kershner) (RW)
Soft focus, red herrings, confounding twist ending, voyeurism; this is what American giallo looks like. This is also what pop sleaze looks like. Fashion photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) unwittingly sees through the eyes of a killer whose crimes eerily mirror her controversial work. Laura’s work is surface-level provocation, using artfully arranged violence to sell product. Funny thing is, the nature of her work and the film itself are kind of inextricable from each other. There’s some commentary about the public reception to Laura’s photographs, questioning her responsibility to people who use the images she creates as violent inspiration (something else I love about this film is that it’s a horror flick about adults with full-fledged careers). There’s a perhaps unintentional level of self-reflexivity going on here (who knows; scripted by John Carpenter yet produced by Jon Peters, a man devoid of self-awareness), but regardless the film playfully inverts itself in multiple ways, such as when Laura, seeing through the eyes of the killer, is looking at herself as the next victim, as prey. The ultimate voyeuristic conundrum.

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Grease (US, Kleiser) (LTF)
In fourth grade we were assigned to make plaster masks for an art project. I made mine of Stockard Channing’s Rizzo. Sure I made her look like a melting hunk of cheese, but the dedication was there. The biggest money-maker of 1978 is a seamless blend of generations, a venue for peppy dressed-up youth to play out. It was released at just the right time, riding off the 50’s revival of American Graffiti from several years earlier and John Travolta’s newfound and entirely justifiable super-stardom. If you want to know what Grease is, just look at the climactic “You’re The One That I Want” number. Grease is Danny and Sandy’s DNA’s combined, a rare breed of wholesome filth that surely contributed to its mass appeal, feeding off the need for a hit musical that wasn’t dour in content and tone or cultish in origin and transgression.

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Halloween (US, Carpenter) (RW)
John Carpenter wastes no time bringing deep-focus compositions and inquisitive camerawork into the daytime streets of ‘Haddonfield, Illinois’, creating an unassuming town scaffold where peaceful suburbia ought to be. Michael Myers is a stark specter, his blank white presence is direct and his sneakiness is presented directly, entirely without sneak. The camera is on a constant swinging pendulum, roving between Myers and our trio of girls. We are never with either of them. Not truly. Halloween occupies the space between predator and prey.

One of the most successful independent films ever made, Halloween established John Carpenter as a defining directorial presence moving into the 80’s and kicked off the (while being far from the first one) the fad of slice-and-dice slashers. But Halloween has an atmospheric restraint, and is far more interested in sustaining and encircling the unknown; qualities that can’t be found in its offspring. Prelude aside, it takes fifty minutes before someone is killed. That’s a long way from the kill-sex-kill-break-nudity-kill structure that slashers would become known for.

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In a Year of 13 Moons (West Germany, Fassbinder) (FTV)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder made In a Year of 13 Moons in response to his former lover’s (Armin Meier) suicide. Opening with a beating, and text that tells of the fated tragedy of the cosmos, Fassbinder underlines that Elvira (Volker Spengler) is destined for doom. And it only goes downhill from there. It’s a high bar to clear, but this is Fassbinder’s most confrontational, openly hopeless work, a fusion of his evocative melodrama and his more anarchic leanings. When Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” casually plays in the background of a lengthy scene, there is a conscious effort to make us feel off-center in our own skin. But nothing compares to the butchery sequence, in which uncompromising graphic footage of animal slaughter is coupled with Elvira’s increasingly frenzied pitch of a voiceover (think Willy Wonka on the boat or Judge Doom’s toon voice), adding up to a nauseating visual and aural assault the likes of which I’ve never quite experienced.

If I could only pick one performance from 1978, Volker Spengler as Elvira would be it. He makes Elvira and her dangerous acquiescence and her comfort in the familiarity of abuse, all too human and frustrating (Elvira can be a very troubling character when looking solely through the lens of trans portrayals but that’s a whole other conversation). Demure and devoid of self-regard, his face begs everyone and anyone to give her something, any reason to keep going. Nobody does.

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Killer of Sheep

Killer of Sheep (US, Burnett) (FTV)
A major work of American cinema. A mosaic of evocative naturalism that observes, empathizes, and communicates through the mundane routines of life in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Intimately caught between narrative and free-form, adults and children, and yet immovably rooted in the experience of impoverished black America.

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Krabat – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice/Čarodějův učeň (Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Zeman) (FTV)
Krabat was the penultimate film from seminal Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman. His far-reaching influence as an animator has inspired the likes of many, and after seeing this it’s easy to see why. In this dark-fantasy fairy tale, cut-out animation is assembled with carefully placed pieces of live-action background. The effect is a richly textured aesthetic where the stiff and often immovable expressions of the characters reflect the constrictions of the poor boys of the story, who are lured into forced labor.

Krabat is about conquering the oppressive and seemingly preternatural force of tyranny, a  tyranny that even conquers the mode of storytelling for the evil sorcerer is the only character given a speaking voice. The story is told by adult Krabat’s narration with the (even in its darkest turns) straightforward remove of a fairy tale which further forces the viewer to rely on the directness of the fixed animation. Krabat and his fellow captive apprentices learn to fear the cycle of life, and the inevitability of what is to come based on the season. Emphasis is given to the beauty of the seasons; at the inescapable and isolated mill, what should be a comfort has been curdled into something of a constant harbinger. And of course, it is love which must conquer all.

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Thank God It’s Friday (US, Klane) (FTV)
Just so you know, disco music and the ‘One Crazy Day/Night’ scenario are two of my favorite things to find in a film. Put them together? Time capsule movie gold. Everyone wants in on the discotheque where The Commodores are set to perform with dance contest in tow. A wide variety of characters fleetingly bounce off each other throughout. Highlights include Jeff Goldblum as a sleazy ladykiller, Debra Winger as a clumsy gal, a young Terri Nunn (!!), and Otis Day as ‘Wrong Way Floyd’ who you should never put in charge of your instruments. If the film had a little more shape to it (with this many story threads, it should never feel like the film is killing time) it might have made my final ten. As it is, it’ll have to settle for being the kind of film I can randomly put on to enjoy again and again.

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An Unmarried Woman (US, Mazursky) (FTV)
Jill Clayburgh prancing around in her undies, giggling uncontrollably in the throes of foreplay, and performing with a rare in-character spontaneity. All this and more support Paul Mazursky’s dramedy about a woman trying to rebuild a life after her husband abruptly leaves her. There is a fascinating knowingness and a concerted effort to tap into the what the ‘modern woman’s picture’ may look like that is by turns outdated and still shockingly relevant. As Erica tries to figure out who and what will define her new life, Mazursky displays an immense care in the particular wants, needs, struggles, inner life, experiences, sexuality, and empowerment of his heroine.  

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Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up/Capsule Reviews: #208-213


I finally put my screening log for 2013 in a document which is how I realized that my numbers have been a little off. Hence this round-up post starting at #208 as opposed to #203.

Curse of Chucky
#208. Curse of Chucky (2013, Mancini)

What I find most notable about the ‘Child’s Play‘ franchise is Don Mancini’s start-to-finish involvement. 25 years, 6 films, and Mancini has either directed, written, or co-written each of them. Here he brings nixes the meta-comedy turn the series had taken, bringing it around to a more serious dimension and that most friendly of low-budget settings; the spooky confined house. There’s quite a bit that works, including Fiona Dourif (daughter of Brad!) as an assured paraplegic, a macabre scene of who-has-the-poisoned-food musical plates, the pristine design of the Cabbage Patch version of Chucky, and a last-minute cameo by Jennifer Tilly which made me clap because, duh, it’s Jennifer Tilly. The first half doesn’t have Chucky to rely on, and so it’s more involving in the way it doles out story and putting off the inevitable. Once Chucky takes over, the film isn’t capable of keeping the story it had set up on an even keel. Brad Dourif’s voicework goes a very long way, but it can’t take the film across the finish line effectively. But I commend Mancini for the intermittently successful parameters he set out for himself in an attempt to old-school up his franchise.

The Entity
#209. The Entity (1983, Lurie)

On the surface, a film about a woman who gets repeatedly raped by a ghost sounds like a more than a little exploitative take on the poltergeist trend. But this is a reductive description to what is a surprisingly raw look at post-traumatic stress and the horror of sexual violence. It’s by no means perfect; it uses assault as set-piece and distractingly postures it as the time and place for effects work to shine. But the focus is entirely on Hershey’s trauma, her psyche, and in conveying her experience of the attacks and post-attacks in a way that mostly feels like the opposite of salacious indecency. It deals with the terror of violation and the blame culture directed at women who have suffered in this way. The supernatural elements allow Hershey’s character to be seen as the root of the problem to everyone (mostly men) she opens up to. Sound familiar? There’s a nice touch in that it depicts a supportive female friendship with said friend being the first person to believe her.

This focus I describe makes The Entity very difficult to watch; it uses an abrasive score to accompany and carry through the suddenness of the attacks. We never know anything about the ghost; he is given no identity, no motive, no reasoning. This also helps broaden the scope of The Entity and I personally found the way it handled its subject matter to be more affecting and hard-hitting than most films that take on the topic.

I had major issues with the rinse-and-repeat structure and lack of forward motion within the 2-hour time frame. And yes, the last act becomes very convoluted and silly, a desperate grasp at overgrown climax and an antithetical direction from the rest of the film.

Barbara Hershey is pretty phenomenal here, giving an uncompromising performance in which she has to work through constant scenes of horror and mental anguish. To boot, she has nobody to act off of in the aforementioned pivotal scenes. The way she makes you feel her paralysis links up beautifully with the way Lurie conveys and makes us feel the anticipatory fear of violation via canted angles and a gazing dread that carefully skirts implicating the audience in atypical favor of aligning us with Hershey. These things overcome the film’s unfortunate ultimate commitment to convention and clarity.

First Name Carmen
#210. First Name: Carmen (1983, Godard)

I have a very strange and indescribable ambivalence towards Jean-Luc Godard, especially because there are a few films from him I consider favorites! I guess I’m dubious of him; that’s the only way I can think to describe it. The God-like status he has, which I recognize is for largely good reason. Radical formal innovation rendered through impossibly cool pop sensibilities and genre play will get you far (I realize that’s a reductive reading but not an entirely untruthful one). I guess I just prefer so many directors to him. And I never care much about what he’s getting at. There’s an unappealing coldness within those hip genre cages. This is coming from someone who is often attracted to ‘cold’ filmmaking. Maybe one day I’ll be able to describe it. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, right? I still find it interesting that many who love him are largely unfamiliar with his later work which make up half his career. I recently enjoyed reading an article that discussed Lincoln Center’s retrospective and the way the programming destroyed any binary notions by mixing up the former and latter eras of his career.

Anyways, there’s a lot that piqued my interest in First Name: Carmen. His reliable penchant for using sound as jarring connective at-odds-with-each-other tissue, the director’s screen presence in which he lampoons himself as a loony crone spouting philosophical, the use of the Tom Waits ballad “Ruby Arms” which gives us gorgeous shots like the one pictured above, the enticing muse that is Maruschka Detmers. But when it comes down to it, to put it ridiculously and crudely, I didn’t care enough to care. This is the way I feel about him about half the time. So it goes. I still need to see Pierrot le Fou damn it!

Tenebre
#211. Tenebre (aka Tenebrae) (1982, Argento) 

How connected is an artist to his work? Or rather, how reflective is it? Color scheme ceases to exist, this is the anti-Suspiria in that regard, as Argento strips down his world to broad daylight, whites abound, and architectural puzzle places. A white-out plane where sexual ‘deviancy’ and humiliation are laid bare, pursuing scars. All the better for red pumps to make their way around, fate trussed up. The Goblin score (or score by former members of Goblin rather) is impossibly cool moving between distorted lurking or eerie permanent lullaby. The kill scenes are far more about the the build-up than the actual death. Except that is, for the ex-wife whose murder becomes canvas art in one explosively red fell swoop. And how about that omnipotent dog?

Will John Saxon ever not be hammy? Even in a sea of dubbing and questionable acting, he hams it up. A Charles Ruggles for the 80’s. Daria Nicolodi is always such a welcome sturdy presence.

The female critic claiming sexism is portrayed stereotypically but ends up being on the money. Hmmm. And then she’s of course voyeuristically murdered. Double hmmm.

The completely over-the-top tour-de-force tracking shot best illustrates the detachment with which violence is conveyed. I far prefer Suspiria and Deep Red to this but was extremely fond of it and would take it over Opera and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. So it seems that while I don’t think giallo is really my thing, that Argento without a doubt is. He’s like a spiritual brother to Brian De Palma.

Possession Adjani
#212. Possession (1981, Zulawski)

Short Review post coming soon.

Daughters of Darkness
#213. Daughters of Darkness (1971, Kümel)

Pretty much the definition of my cup of tea. Occupies a slightly peculiar space that is neither the lesbian sexcapades nor the frightening vampire horror some may expect/want. It is instead an erotically charged mood piece that exists in the sultriness of dusk and the lost hours of the night. That it isn’t scary and is ultimately somewhat chaste may chase some off, but this is exactly the kind of Gothic psychological beaut that I am drawn towards. It’s bolstered by Delphine Seyrig whose enigmatic worldliness by way of Old Hollywood glistens throughout. Nobody; not the characters or us, can escape her orbit.

The fade-to-reds preface those of Bergman’s Cries and Whispers by a year. Daughters of Darkness has been claimed as a feminist text by some. While I don’t think Valerie ever breaks free on her own terms the way I would have liked, her arc is still one of empowerment all things considered. The film pulls the rug out from under the notion of hetero-newlywed bliss. The honeymoon is used as the time where the curtain is pulled back on who you thought your partner was. Once the deceit and abuse of the couple’s dynamic reveals itself, Valerie must choose between loyalty to her husband or to herself. Seyrig’s place in the film complicates everything for everyone and makes the film about a man and woman battling over the possession of a third woman.

Andrea Rau is impossibly luscious here. She has a proto-Wednesday Addams outfit in her Louise Brooks hairdo and I just want to be her basically.

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
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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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: #175-188


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#175. Prince Avalanche (2013, Green)

Subtle moving micro-budget male bonding film (and also apparently a pretty faithful remake of an Icelandic film called Either Way) and a great actors-piece with one of the best dynamics in a film this year. It’s a soft but lingering piece of work that bridges where director Green started and where he is now as a director. It is isolated and connected to the ground and to the wreckage among two men who need to reconfigure who they are in the world. At times beguiling but charmingly so. A real treat not to mention one of the best scores of the year by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo.

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#176. From Up on Poppy Hill (2013, Goro Miyazaki) 

Luscious animation and a catching sense of time and place are not enough to distract from a humdrum coming-of-age story that never coalesces. There are about three strands of story floating around here which all feel like underdeveloped filler, not to mention each is not particularly interesting on their own to begin with. The characters are appealing and I adore that it is a story about teenagers in 1963 Yokohama. But it’s a shame that father and son couldn’t come up with something more than mildly diverting, gorgeous though it is.

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#177. The King of Comedy (1983, Scorsese)

This had been a major blind spot for quite some time and I couldn’t be happier now that I’ve finally seen it. 80’s Scorsese is without a doubt my favorite Scorsese era. Anything dealing with celebrity/fame obsession tends to read as more prescient today no matter when it was made and the same goes for The King of Comedy. A satire shot with a decidedly restrained camera for the filmmaker, all the more emphasizing its unflinching tone. Nothing should distract from making us feel De Niro’s performance as Rupert Pupkin, a beaming open wound unwilling and/or incapable of touching ground for even a second. Similar to some other De Niro performances in its extremity, but fueled for entirely new purposes, he is relentless here, making sure the audience feels as uncomfortable as possible. Scorsese glues reality and fantasy together with a matter-of-fact fluidity, making that final scene all the more ambiguous. Sandra Bernhard is to die for. Her scenes with Pupkin were particularly enjoyable as they play two delusional fanatics sparring with each other in the streets of NYC. There are so many quotable moments, so many unsettling undercurrents. It’s a mix of unease, sorrow, truth, and desperation. These sort of anomalies within Scorsese’s filmography are the ones I find myself most attracted to as years go buy. And this is a new favorite.

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#178. Star 80 (1983, Fosse)
Short Review Coming Soon

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#179. Blood and Black Lace (1964, Bava)

I think for me to really attach myself to a giallo film, there has to be an ‘it’ factor. I’ve seen very few, but the ones I love go beyond the coming together of the genre’s defining characteristics and grab hold of something that’s immediacy rooted in weirdness. The original opening sequence of Blood and Black Lace does that for me. Our cast poses as mannequins with Bava being upfront about the way he, and the genre, uses characters. There are scenes of color explosions that foresee the way giallo will use expressionistic color as its language of choice, as a setting for lurid sexually-soaked demise. But Blood and Black Lace didn’t have that magic for me as a whole, despite its phantasmagorical moments influence and place as a staple of the genre.

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180. Local Hero (1983, Forsyth)

A perfect storm of a film; if it connects with you it does so in a big way. Local Hero is such an odd and disarmingly charming film that I don’t even know how to properly describe it. The village of Ferness has a slightly surreal sensibility where anything feels possible but where the possibilities reveal themselves drolly and without announcement. There’s a light dose of magical realism thrown in, something that is difficult to pull off, particularly in film. There is a story, with goals to be achieved, but the film is so relaxed and so loose in the way it soaks in the village and its people that we spend the runtime taking a slow stroll along the beach to our destination. It’s so funny, but also quite somber. This film is so many things. I fell for it hard (even though the women are just the perfect unattainable voids of male fantasy) and was so glad to be spending my time with it. And it has stuck with me so well.

Oh and Peter Capaldi is adorable in this (and 25!). Thank goodness tumblr similarly has a hard-on for him (although this unfortunately seems prompted by the Doctor announcement and not because um; Capaldi!) because it means there’s lots of Danny stuff to enjoy.

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#181. Silkwood (1983, Nichols)

Before it gets constricted by the vague confines of a conventional activist film, Silkwood relaxes us into the slice-of-life on-goings of three freewheeling plutonium plant workers. To get right down to it, the first half hour is wonderful, the rest by-the-numbers, but beyond that it struggles to fill itself with anything that feels natural to the characters involved. Hands down one of Streep’s best performances.

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#182. Eureka (1983, Roeg)

Eureka is one of the most inconsistent films I’ve ever seen. Some of it, including the first 20 minutes which ranks among of the best cinema I’ve ever seen, is genius. Then Roeg gets bogged down in undercooked family dynamics, a long court epilogue, and draggy scenes involving Joe Pesci’s gangster character. Yet about half of Eureka is mind-bogglingly stellar, like a cross between Citizen Kane and the as-yet-unmade There Will Be Blood (there’s no way in hell PTA hasn’t seen this). Roeg has become one of my favorite all-time directors. When it clicks, it’s feels unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. But when strands of lifeless narrative get in his way, it’s hard for him to work around it. He bides his time until he can film the most horrific death I’ve ever seen on film or a 10 minute orgy smack-dab in the middle that is fucking bananas. This is the kind of stuff we wait for, not for its easy shock value, but because he uses elliptical editing and unpredictable zooms to hone in on these acts in an utterly unique way.

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#183. Happy Birthday to Me (1981, Thompson)

Refreshingly gender-neutral in the way it handles its kills. Surely (spoiler) having a female killer puts a different spin on the proceedings. Fun little flick but it has got to be the slowest damn slasher film I’ve ever seen. 110 minutes?!?! For a slasher film!?!? In no way does the content justify its length, so it has some deal-breaking pacing issues. There are some interesting structural decisions that were initially appealing but then the film throws in a twist five minutes before the end which has to be seen to be believed. It makes no sense. And I mean ZERO SENSE. It couldn’t make less sense if it tried. That’s part of what makes it a fun failure.

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#184. Abuse of Weakness (Breillat)
NYFF Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/review-abuse-of-weakness-breillat-nyff/

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#185. Gravity (2013, Cuaron)
Review coming soon

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#186. House of Versace (2013, Sugarman)

I’m consistently amazed by Lifetime’s ability to make original movies that don’t feel like I actually watched anything. Too non-existent to be entertainingly bad, but it does feature a legitimately great performance by Gina Gershon who is firing on all cylinders with work that is at once over-the-top and surprisingly grounded. Too bad it’s in the middle of a non-film.

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#187. Freaked (1993, Stern & Winter)

This past week I’ve seen two of the top five craziest everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-then-some films ever and Freaked is one of them (the other is coming in my next round-up post). It has a bit of a following but I’m surprised this isn’t appreciated on a larger scale within the cult spectrum. If a film can produce an inventive atmosphere that shows me a) things I haven’t seen before and b) feels like anything is possible, I consider it a win. Because really, it’s such a rare accomplishment and an undervalued asset from modern day film-goers. Freaked wasn’t exactly my cup of offbeat-tea but it’s a lot of fun and has an inventive streak for miles with killer effects work from the impeccable to the handmade.

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188. It’s a Disaster (2013, Berger)

Low-key apocalyptic comedy that nails the awkwardness of being thrust into a new social entanglement and the weird dynamic of third dates. It’s an ensemble with a great rapport with Berger and the cast keeping up this chamber piece by going in various amusing reactionary directions. If some of the characters never become interesting or move past their introductory vibe, it’s a relatively minor detractor in what is one of the most consistent and enjoyable comedies I’ve seen in some time. More people need to see this. The final scene is spot-on.

 

 

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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

Screening Log: October 16th-October 31st


304. The Vanishing (1988, Sluizer): A-/B+

305. Day of the Dead (1985, Romero): B


306. Dressed to Kill (1980, De Palma): C+


307. Funny Games (1997, Haneke): B


308. The Company of Wolves (1984, Jordan): B+/B


309. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976, Sole): A-/B+


310. Mask of Fu Manchu (1932, Brabin): C-


311. The Woman (2011, McKee): C


312. Doctor X (1932, Curtiz): C+


313. Take Shelter (2011, Nichols): A


314. The Last Circus (2011, de la Iglesia): A-/B+


315. Svengali (1931, Mayo): B-


316. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970, Argento): B


317. Broken Embraces (2009, Almodovar): C+/C


318. The Skin I Live In (2011, Almodovar): B-


319. Ringu (1998, Nakata): B+/B