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.

Saboteur

#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.

Rewatches:

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.

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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): https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/list-top-30-favorite-films-of-the-year-30-16/
Top 25 Performances and Top 10 Song Usages: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/lists-top-25-performances-and-top-10-song-usages-from-2012-film/
The Top Fives in 2012 Film: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/the-top-fives-of-2012-film/
What I’ll Remember About The Films of 2012: A Personal Sampling: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/what-ill-remember-about-the-films-of-2012-a-personal-sampling/
The 10 Worst Films I Saw: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/the-ten-worst-films-i-saw-in-2012/
10 of the Worst Film Posters: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/list-10-of-the-worst-film-posters-of-2012/
Top 20 Film Posters: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/list-top-20-film-posters-of-2012/

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: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/review-this-is-not-a-film-2012-panahi-mirtahmasb/

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.

THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY

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.

perks

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.

the-imposter

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: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/review-the-imposter-2012-layton-iffboston-2012/

Alps

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.

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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: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/review-moonrise-kingdom-2012-anderson/

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?

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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.

osloaugust31

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:  https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/review-oslo-august-31st-2012-trier/

The_Master_Paul_Thomas_Anderson-70

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.

Amour

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.

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— 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)

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— 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)

polisse-2

— 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

Paranorman_Mitch
— 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)

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— 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

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— 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

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— 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)

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— 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)

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— 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:

http://thefilmstage.com/features/interview-girl-model-director-david-redmon-talks-objectivity-in-documentary-more/

http://www.filmoria.co.uk/2012/02/exclusive-interview-with-david-redmon-and-ashley-sabin-directors-of-girl-model/

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.

Review: Looper (2012, Johnson)


With three films under his belt, it’s clear that Rian Johnson loves to tinker with genre form, structure, presentation and expectations. With 2005’s Brick, an audaciously bold vision of Hammett-style noir set in the emptied outskirts of high school suburbia, Johnson presented two tried and true genres and welded them together to create something that had not been done before. It was a concept that could have and should have fallen to pieces for, well, pick a reason. But it didn’t. His third film Looper sees a repairing of the director with now bona-fide star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time, they take on sci-fi, using high concept to ask questions about cycles, or loops if you will, of violence, selfishness and stepping outside routine monotony to look at who we have become and the choices we make.

Looper gets the world-setting out of the way in its first act with expositional narration delivered by Levitt with grade-school lesson preciseness. The basics are this; the year is 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but it will have been in 30 years only to be immediately outlawed. Since circumstances make it impossible to get rid of a body in the future, the criminal underworld send those they want gone back to 2044 to be killed by ‘loopers’.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. He spends his days executing, taking drugs that are administered via eye drops and partying at the club that his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) owns. Being a looper means you make serious change, which from the looks of things, cannot be said for the greater populace. He is saving up to go to France. Lately, contracts are increasingly being terminated as loopers are being forced to kill their older selves, thereby “closing the loop”. This means they get a ginormous payday, an early retirement and the knowledge that they have 30 more years until they bite the dust.

The story kicks into gear when Bruce Willis, playing the older Joe, is sent back but escapes with a questionable agenda of his own. The younger Joe has to track down his eventual self so he can save face with Abe and his goons who are now after him.

The near-future Johnson creates is shrouded in big-picture ambiguity and is brought to life by minutiae and the immersion into an underground subset of life in 2044. The technology has progressed but has a tinkered rusty old-world feel to it. The gadgetry and panoramic views that can potentially drown out other sci-fi is smartly nowhere to be seen, mostly because the budget does not support it. Looper keeps small-scale dystopia in check throughout, throwing expectations out the window by having the second half set far removed from what we commonly think of as sci-fi settings. In fact, it comes to feel more like a ‘protecting the ranch’ kind of Western.

The marketing for Looper reminded me of the marketing for Brave. Both decided to focus on the basic ideas, and exclusively cover the first third to first half of their products. There were audience members who are thrown by the turns each film takes. Frankly, we need more marketing of this kind. While there are problems that emerged for me upon reflection, the unpredictability of most of the film was thrilling. It is a sensation that does not come around often, that sense of not knowing where a film is going. There are a couple of sequences that took me by such surprise that I felt like a kid in a candy store. There are moments when Looper had me gleaming. Most of this can be attributed to the non-formulaic storytelling, but some of it can be credited to how the film was sold to the public. It is proof that we rely far too much on what we see from trailers and that trailers have for the most part lost the art of intrigue. I hope more marketing campaigns take this route in the future.

Johnson and Levitt have gone on record talking about the cycle of violence the film comments on. It humanizes the concept by pointing out that at the center of violence in the abstract, you have people making decisions. What is this catalyst and how can it be changed? What drives a sense of responsibility? Would our actions be unrecognizable to our former selves? Johnson successfully walks that fine line between indulging in onscreen violence without it compromising what he is trying to say.

Johnson’s cinematic eye consistently excites me, particularly in the way he uses the horizontal streak of the frame for maximum effect. By using widescreen to have multiple planes of movement happening at once, he utilizes back and forth stationary panning to follow the action as opposed to a more traditional cutting technique. This touch can be seen quite a lot in Brick as well. He calls attention to the different ways action can be shot and cut by having the scene where Willis escapes Levitt shown twice. The first time the camera is right up with the action, employing point-of-view shots and expected cutting choices. The second time we see the scene the camera is placed far away and the awkwardness of the scuffle is caught and even played for laughs. It’s a delightful moment that calls attention to how thoroughly formal elements dictate how we perceive what happens onscreen.

The hiccups in Looper feel more marked because it gets so much so right. This is one of the best films I have seen this year, and certainly a sci-fi flick for the books, but it cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

The older version of Joe, played by Willis, faces a surprising antihero-based dilemma. The groundwork is laid for a captivating older Joe and Willis brings what he can to the table. But the script increasingly treats him like a lazy subplot presence as opposed to a co-lead who is facing very tough decisions, confronting the fact of what he is willing to do at a chance for self-preservation. His role starts out strong; the diner scene between him and Levitt is probably the film’s highlight and I would have sopped up the glory of that scene more had I known it would sadly be the two actors’ only significant time onscreen together. Then older Joe is quickly demoted to provide a forcibly injected pacing jolt and to try and justify the existence of Piper Perabo’s wholly disposable character.

The ideas introduced are carried through to the end, but the character focus shifts too dramatically. Despite always keeping the younger Joe’s arc in eyesight, the central focus of Emily Blunt’s Sarah and Pierce Gagnon’s Cid (both doing fabulous work) cannot help but take away from the impact of the younger Joe’s conscience building. Sarah is introduced with a nice touch that immediately pushes her into a level past ‘love interest’ (a category I’d argue she does not fit in the first place). Johnson gives her perspective and right off the bat she becomes a character with feelings, motivations and backstory in her own right. If only the film could have succeeded at keeping Joe’s arc in the foreground throughout all of this.

The climax highlights how the two Joe’s become a footnote in their own film. The telekinetic piece of the Looper world puzzle (10% of the population has TK…?) is the only bit to feel out of place, and yet it becomes central to the story. Joe steps into a story bigger than him and the addicting dichotomy between the two Joe’s becomes underexplored. While I love the jagged curveball that Looper throws at us, Johnson struggles to keep what was introduced at the beginning in focus and the centrality of the two Joe’s, especially Willis, is somewhat compromised as a result. These shortcomings, while notable, do not change the fact that Looper remains an invigorating genre-affirming piece of science-fiction.

Review: Dark Shadows (2012, Burton)


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When I say that Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows isn’t quite the disaster he spewed forth with Alice in Wonderland, don’t mistake that even for the faintest of praise. It’s merely a testament to just how awful his 2010 fantasy revisionist film is. While Dark Shadows shows an uptick in his visual palette, the improvements end there. Here he takes a 1960’s campy soap and transforms it into an at times excruciating misfire that is headlined by an incomprehensible script by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Tim Burton’s interest in storytelling has been, for the most part, pretty low on his priority list. He is more into atmospheric world-building that fits both his imagination and a consistent evocation of his long-standing influences. By now, he is treading muddy water, refusing to attempt creative expansion and is bogged down in increasingly unsalvagable scripts. It is clear now that Sweeney Todd was not a return to form, but evidence that he still has life in him provided he has solid material to work with. Sadly, this is now rarely the case.

There’s a reason that most reviews of recent Tim Burton fare include a by-now mandatory Burton-centric rant. The handful of his films that I will always cherish are enough for me, and many other youguns who grew up with his work, to remain masochistically loyal to him. He’s sort of like the Weezer of filmmakers in that way. Batman Returns essentially represents my childhood; it has so much added personal meaning for me that it is in many ways the Burton film that means the most to me. As a stereotypically moody adolescent I worshiped Lydia Deetz and tried to recreate her bedroom by nailing sheer fabric to the ceiling, putting up an imaginary fortress fit for an angsty queen. At 12 years old, Sleepy Hollow was the first R-rated film I saw in theaters. The day I saw Ed Wood for the first time I was 13 and I loved it so much that I watched it 4 times in a row, still the only time I have done that. And then there is the discovery that the older I got, the funnier Pee Wee’s Big Adventure became. And so that loyalty persists, despite my better judgment.

There is infinite possibility in the advent of CGI which is more often that not wasted by the absence of balance. Once Burton started working with and embracing CGI, his work lost that indefinable something. His visuals now veer towards the opposite of idiosyncratic, disabling his calling card. There was something about the concrete physicality of his worlds. What he does with shapes, sizes and structures; those marks feel largely absent. The way he used to employ effects (Large Marge anyone?) quite literally popped. CGI gives him a broader paintbrush and he uses it to showcase the wider landscapes of his worlds. But the result is a look that, beyond the often still memorable room-based production design, is transparent and flat. AKA the antithesis of his films looked like in pasttimes.

The final problem is the mutually assured destruction pairing of Burton and Johnny Depp. The two continue to bring each other down, a statement that long ago I never thought I’d have to make. Basically studios give Burton boatloads of cha-ching cha-ching to make shit adaptations of whatever the piqued interest of the year is. Then Burton ropes Depp in, pays him boatloads of cha-ching to play dress-up and create increasingly rote variations of the same bag of eccentricities. Depp used to be non-conformist, always taking chances and making interesting choices. Now he is conformist and predictable and is being paid absolutely ludicrous amounts of money for it (he’s the highest paid working actor). Somewhere along the line he stopped playing characters and we are left with bad makeup, a vaguely British over-enunciated accent and garish flailing mannerisms.

So what about Dark Shadows? Let’s start with the story. In the 1700’s, young Barnabas Collins and his family travel to Maine and make a name for themselves by successfully taking over the seafood business. He gets involved with a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), but his feelings for her are surface-level. His heart truly lies with young Josette (Bella Heathcote). When he spurns Angelique, she hypnotizes Josette into throwing herself off a cliff and turns Barnabas into a vampire in addition to chaining him in a coffin and burying him underground. This all happens in the first five minutes.

In 1972, a young woman named Victoria, who happens to look exactly like Josette, arrives in Collinsport to be a governess to young David (Gulliver McGrath). We meet the many Collins descendants and learn that Angelique still lives in the town and is the family’s main competitor in the seafood industry. At the same time, Barnabas is unearthed by construction workers and has to adjust to the 1970’s, meet his family and face Angelique.

The story consists of languorous exposition and subplots that are introduced and then dropped with no warning. Oh, and then randomly picked up again when it’s convenient. The dialogue has zero punch or wit. The pacing is akin to a hobbled man walking and the film’s identity crisis is apparent throughout. Perhaps most disconcertingly, we are never given any reason to be invested in anything, and I mean anything, onscreen. The rushed prologue tells us a lot and thinks that equals effective storytelling. Economic maybe; but effective?

There’s no throughline with the characters and no established family dynamic, and this is a film that wants to be about family; at least that is what it tells us. There are way too many characters that screenwriter Smith has no idea what to do with. They register on the most basic of levels and by the skin of their teeth at that. The actors are given no room to individualize their work. Eva Green is the only one who manages to do something with her character. The always welcome Michelle Pfieffier is one of many actors wasted. Depp is exactly what you would expect; recycled and gaudy. Helena Bonham-Carter manages to be semi-effective with a couple of later scenes. The worst of the bunch is Chloe Grace-Moretz who showcases the traits of hers I have always had a problem with; the entirety of her performance consists of an over-pronounced snarl.

An example of the unforgivably clumsy storytelling is the handling of Bella Heathcote’s Victoria, played by the kind of wide-eyed ingenue with just-so styling that Burton loves. She is introduced during the opening credits as Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin” plays, thereby automatically earning the ‘Best Scene in Dark Shadows‘ award. It turns out she is only being used as a gateway, not as a character in her own right. Once she is used to get us introduced to the wacky family, she is unceremoniously hung out to dry. The governess pretext is just that; it never remotely comes into play. She disappears for a hefty 30-40 minutes only to be jarringly reintroduced so she can out-of-nowhere express her feelings for Barnabus. And once again at the end so she can be saved.

On some level this is how the film treats every character, though none so dismissively as Victoria. A pattern of zero characterization and flung-in backstory appearing solely to justify their existence in a half-assed effort to give them something to do.

The humor has one mode, ‘weren’t the 1970’s funny?’, that proves Dark Shadows inability to commit to anything or handle its identity crisis. The jokes themselves are either corny observations or short exchanges with log-like landings that are delivered half-heartedly and take on the low energy level the pacing dictates. Worst of all, the jokes are bad. Really bad. Smith could have found genuine humor in the fish-out-of-water plot or imbued comic timing with scenarios, situations or in the dynamics between characters. The best he could do are piss-poor kind-of jokes that first and foremost do not compromise the overall non-tone. Since this is how Dark Shadows deals with each genre courting; the result is that the film has no discernible tone at all.

This lack of genre commitment means that Dark Shadows is too frightened to throw itself into anything but ‘well I guess it could count as soapy’. The original show is oft described as a campy soap. The film does not commit to camp. It commits to soap only in plot details, not tone. Nor does it commit to comedy, as discussed above, or horror. By trying to be a wispy hint of everything, we are left with not much of anything. A poorly written, indeterminately characterized not much of anything at that. Yes, the costumes and production design are notably satisfying; and that’s basically what Burton and his regular collaborators bring to the table at this point. We can only hope that Frankenweenie represents some kind of return to form, however fleeting that may be.