Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
2011 USA. Director: David Schwimmer. Starring: Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Liana Liberato, Jason Clarke, Viola Davis, Noah Emmerich, Chris Henry Coffey.
I had been avoiding David Schwimmer’s film about online sexual predators for a while because it had the potential to be an absolute disaster that mishandled the subject matter. Luckily that wasn’t the case. Although a little on-the-nose, Schwimmer’s latest effort is actually an affecting and powerful little film, one that should be important viewing for those wanting to know about the potential dangers of children surfing the web. Crucially it doesn’t paint the entire idea of using the internet as bad but just alerts to some of the possibilities. And it’s truly amazing Schwimmer went from Run Fatboy Run to this.
1965 UK. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Catherine Deneuve.
An early Roman Polanski masterpiece that tracks the mental breakdown of a young Belgian woman, Carole (Catherine Deneuve), as she tries to make a life for herself in the hustle and bustle of London with her sister. Imagine being a literate cineaste in the 1960s just having just seen the previous year’s candy coloured French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (a coming out party of sorts for Ms. Deneuve as a major new film star) and then selecting Polanski’s film to get more of the same only to receive a black & white cramped apartment mind-fuck! Miss Deneuve tackles the role with relish, gets raped and has a sort of misplaced revenge before a climactic mental and physical collapse. Half is in the mind, half is in reality, but the audience gets the complete package of horrors doled with with an exacting precision that belies its loosey-goosey camera-work and overabundance of supporting characters. Repulsion has been called “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho turned inside out” and certainly it has its own fair share of surprises and lasting images; not the least of which is reportedly the first on-soundtrack-if-not-onscreen female orgasm to be shown in regular British Cinemas. I’m not sure if there is a conscious subtextual inversion of Alice in Wonderland, but rotting and skinned rabbit is might be a clue. The closing shot may be a revelation of sorts as to why things are happening to poor Carole, (and it is a doozey in retrospect that is prescient of a litany of other Polanski themes) but here it is as much the journey as the destination.
1985 Italy. Director: Lamberto Bava. Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Paola Cozza, Fabiola Toledo, Geretta Geretta.
My first Dario Argento-involved film, I’m ashamed to say (no I haven’t yet seen Suspiria…). Demons is atrociously acted and ridiculously over-the-top, but when it comes to the gore effects and the tension of these hellish monsters terrorizing a group of moviegoers it is an absolute TON of fun. And, in fact, the cheesy acting actually adds to the fun; look out particularly for “Shaft meets Mr. T” trying to be the hero.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
2011 UK. Director: Lynne Ramsay. Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller.
I caught this at AFI Fest a few weeks ago and loved it, but didn’t review it both because Kurt already had (and talked about it glowingly on the Cinecast several times). Then I saw it again last night while volunteering at Cinefamily, and my original opinion still holds – this is an incredible film, and easily one of the best of the year. It’s probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a first-person film (without being shot in first person, which always turns out gimmicky), with our perspective so closely tied to that of Eva Khatchadourian that it’s hard to distinguish where reality ends and her probably psychosis begins. Coming out of last night’s screening, people were arguing whether it was a bad mom movie or a bad kid movie – either answer is too simple, thanks to Lynne Ramsay’s unsettling use of surreal sound design and non-chronological editing to keep us in the dark about anyone’s psychology other than Eva’s. And she can’t be trusted. It’s often a very uncomfortable film to watch, but in the best, most profound way possible. Let’s hope Ramsay doesn’t take another nine-year break before making another film; the film world is much better off with her presence.
2010 USA. Director: John Carpenter. Starring: Amber Heard, Mami Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Jared Harris.
Question to the director of this film: Who are you and where is the real John Carpenter? He used to be one of THE horror directors but has failed to maintain that into his later years. The Ward is a potentially interesting film – although it does give off a whiff of Zack Snyder’s awful Sucker Punch, without the budget for the special effects – but only delivers a handful of moderate chills when it should have been scaring the pants off me. And the ending is just about as cliched and tired as you can get. Yes, the twist is EXACTLY what you’re thinking it is…
Dementia (aka Daughter of Horror)
1953 USA. Director: John Parker. Starring: Adrienne Barrett, Bruno VeSota, Ben Roseman.
What a bizarre and intriguing little curiosity of a film. Shot in 1953 completely silent, but released in 1955 with an added voiceover narration, the film screened at Cinefamily with live narration from a local comedian, who read the voiceover script when called for, but filled in the many non-voiced parts with MST3K-style joking around. So it’s not an experience that’s likely to be repeatable, but it was certainly memorable and hilarious to see it that way. The film itself is a nightmare-scape, with a woman waking in the middle of the night and taking a noirish odyssey through the dark streets of a city populated with winos, pimps, and scumbags. Is it really happening, or is she dreaming? Who knows? It’s rather surreal, and filled with memorable details like a midget newspaper seller, a graveyard flashback with images of fatherly abuse, a swinging jazz club, a gluttonous lech, and a crisscross of legs blocking a vital piece of evidence – all rendered in high contrast black and white with long shadows and striking angles. The pacing is often disjointed, and the acting often simply bad, but there’s something mesmerizing about the film that I think exists apart from the amusing commentary we got that both enhanced and diffused the film’s nightmarish impact. I enjoyed the experience greatly, but I hesitate to say the film would be unwatchable without it (as most MST3K films are). There’s more inherent interest in it than that.
The Young Victoria
2009 UK/USA. Director: Jean-Marc Vallee. Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson.
Strong enough is the pull of Cafe De Flore that I went back to Jean-Marc Vallee’s previous big-budget costume drama The Young Victoria. I found an undeservedly passed-over film that provides many delights and interesting views into the back room politics behind royalty. At only an hour and 45 minutes, it’s one of the shorter period pieces out there and though that quick pace works to its advantage, I actually found myself wishing for another 30 minutes or so by the end – partially because there was further room to explore some of the political machinations and also just for the sheer joy of looking at the gorgeous set design, but mostly because I was fully invested in the character of Victoria and her suitor/Prince. Of course, a lot has to do with how easily watchable Emily Blunt is (not just due to her beauty, but because she simply has a presence about her – she was easily the MVP of The Adjustment Bureau), but both characters are given solid amounts of time to grow. Vallee inserts a few bits of visual flair to heighten certain moments (a drunken speech, etc.), but mostly allows his actors to take the reigns and never lets you forget the opulence of their surroundings. As much as I liked Marie Antoinette (and as different a movie as that was intended to be from this), I do prefer the warmth and humanity that comes through the young Victoria.