I usually watch a fair amount of horror during October to celebrate the month of Halloween. This month, I didn’t watch as many as usual, I just wasn’t in the mood to see lots. I did see 5-6, as well as season two of Stranger Things.
Suspiria (1977) (Dario Argento)
Rewatch. This time for a Halloween big screen presentation! Suspiria is worth seeing, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its lofty cult classic reputation. The story is predictable and paper thin, but it’s really a mood piece, sustaining a sense of dread with its eerie atmosphere and striking colors. Supports my theory that set designs are more beautiful than CGI. Filmmakers take note.
The lead (Jessica Harper) is believable as a student far from home, she plays her role well, looking afraid and worried.
Without the chilling Goblin soundtrack the movie probably wouldn’t be regarded as highly. Needs the music to cast its spell, and the experience benefited from having the sound system cranked up during the screening I went to. My ears are still ringing.
Without spoiling anything, maybe the tensest scene is a blind man with his dog walking through an empty town square.
It’s possible the film is more spine-tingling when viewed alone. The audience sniggering at the voice dubbing took me out of the story a couple of times. I guess I just prefer watching horror by myself. I agree with this writer who names her article The exhilarating thrill of watching scary movies alone.
The Love Witch (2016) (Anna Biller)
Recommended by The Vern. The Love Witch unapologetically retrofies the exploitation films of 60s/70s, and the lead looks almost identical to Italian giallo actress Edwige Fenech. I think it manages to holds its own next to the movies it homages. Telling a story with gender commentary, about a witch who seeks true love. Using a cast of fairly unknown actors, I love the highly stylized production design which show affection towards the films it was influenced by. Don’t know when the story is supposed to be, it exists in a place that is both past and present, with mobile phones and modern cars, yet wardrobes, haircuts and interiors from a different time. For what it lacks in scares, it makes up for in mood. A little long at 120 minutes, and some scenes feel self-serving, but worth your time. The sequence that stood out the most to me was near the end when she talks to the cop in the bar. I think especially a female audience will connect with main character Elaine, whose emotions for the most part are rationale and relatable.
*Spoilers* She is a flirty femme fatale, yet there’s a sense of someone lost and trying to find a companion. Sex appears to be a means towards love, but the men she meets seemingly can’t deal with the deeper emotions. Must be frustrating to be a woman in that predicament. Perhaps Elaine is just trying too hard to find a boyfriend. Perhaps also a commentary on that good looks sometimes result in lust and not love. As they mentioned on the recent Lambcast, “she’s giving in to these guy’s fantasies, trying to achieve her own fantasy of this guy who is truly going to love her”. Elaine is shooting herself in the foot by using love potions as it’s a fake devotion. As discussed on the Lambcast, her idea of what a relationship should involve is warped by an abusive former lover, the deceased antagonist Jerry.
The Day After (1983) (Nicholas Meyer)
Discussed in The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us, a documentary I reviewed below. The Day After set a record as the highest-rated television film in history, as more than 100 million people watched during its initial broadcast. A realistic and horrifying what-if scenario, about a contemporary, disastrous nuclear war. An important film showing the aftermath for US residents of Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City, where innocent people are helpless to the missiles and radiation. It’s frightening that society is so unprepared for this type of possible WW3 situation, with overcrowded hospitals, and uncertainty(for example growing crops in the soil). The scenes with the dead animals and the emotional preacher were especially affecting. A film that makes you appreciative of what we have and how vital it is to find peaceful solutions. Perhaps the most chilling line of dialogue is a quotation of Einstein: “He said he didn’t know how they would fight WW3. But he knew how they would fight WW4. With stick and stones”
The Fly (1958) (Kurt Neumann)
Recommended by Wendell in his Top 25 Movies of the 1950s. Honestly it’s difficult to talk about its qualities without spoiling it. As with another Vincent Price film, The Last Man on Earth (1964), there’s use of non-chronological storytelling. Cronenberg’s 1986 remake is more straightforward, while also improving on the special effects.
Calling The Fly a horror is a bit of a stretch, it’s really science-fiction, with a warning about experiments and playing god. The ending is pretty horrifying for a 1950s film.
eXistenZ (1999) (David Cronenberg)
Included in Sati’s Favorite movies of all time list. Sci-fi/body horror. A future society in which you can live inside a game environment. Game designers (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are worshipped as superstars. Weird and unpredictable story. Parts of the film, such as the restaurant scene, feel weird for the sake of weirdness. Is Cronenberg questioning if gaming is good or bad for you? Blurring the line between what’s real and what isn’t, the audience is never comfortable. As all gamers have, feeling the awkwardness and differences of moving between both worlds. Able to pause a game or movie, but not able to pause real life. A cautionary tale that a game can become so real that you can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Without easy solutions, raises questions rather than giving answers. Too gross to become a favorite, but very imaginative in its design and props. Especially interesting to watch if you’ve played video games. You can make parallels to Tron, The Matrix, or Inception, though eXistenZ manages to carve out its own unique space rather than duplicating someone else’s.
Raw (2016) (Julia Ducournau)
Recommended by Liam at Motion Picture Blog. There are some truly unforgettable scenes. I found the main characters had no likeability and became a series of shocks whereby she (and the filmmakers) could experiment and try out boundaries. About the potential and un-predictableness within all of us. Ultimately, a well-made film to be admired for its creativeness within a realistic setting, but with a nauseating story. If it’s goal was to make the audience feel ill at ease, then it succeeds. Deserves praise for provoking a reaction in me. Whether I like that reaction is another matter. Fits in the New French Extremity genre category.
Stranger Things (season 2) (2017) (Duffer Brothers) (spoiler-free review)
An entertaining sci-fi/horror show with a mainstream appeal, easily digestible. I binge-watched it over the last few days. There’s a natural progression, with cliff-hanger endings, and a bit more genuine horror than season one, especially Hopper’s journey in E5 and the action sequence in E8. Though occasionally it can feel like the filmmakers are playing it too safe, with ideas that in some instances could be described as rehash of what worked in the original. The storyline with Max and Billy was the most involving and freshest to me. Eleven’s journey was separate from the main conflict and at times seemed like a different show, I’m undecided if that was a good or a bad decision. There’s a welcome supporting role for Sean Astin of Goonies fame, a fitting choice given how the 1985 movie influenced the tone of the childhood camaraderie in Stranger Things. Perhaps the charm of the show for adult audiences is nostalgia for the 80s, and reminding us about the joys and frustrations of growing up. Certainly characters I cared about, and enjoyed hanging out with the kids again from Hawkins, Indiana.
The non-horror films….
Borg vs McEnroe (2017) (Janus Metz)
A safe, by-the-numbers biopic of Bjorn Borg’s rise to fame, coaching that led to his ice cold, machine-like play. A thrilling, edge-of-your-seat sequence depicting the 1980 Wimbledon final is a definite highpoint of the film. The actor who plays Borg is very believable, whereas Shia LaBeouf is not as convincing as John McEnroe.
Good Time (2017) (Safdie’s)
A gripping crime thriller with a fantastic turn by Robert Pattinson. An unpredictable story with twists and turns. The bizarre poster and Iggy Pop’s song from the soundtrack make better sense when you’ve seen the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh seemed miscast and too old for her role.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (Denis Villeneuve)
See previous review
The American Friend (1977) (Wim Wenders)
Adapted from the novel Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith. A neo-noir about a a picture framer (Bruno Ganz) who becomes involved in a seedy underworld of crime. I never quite knew where the story was heading. The motivations of the characters is interesting, though I felt the last 30 min was less believable on the train and afterwards.
Headhunters (2011) (Morten Tyldum)
A suspenseful, well-told cat-and-mouse thriller. One of the best ‘nordic noirs’ of recent years. Another book by Jo Nesbø, The Snowman, is in cinemas now, but I heard it’s a poor adaptation.
Spielberg (2017) (documentary) (Susan Lacy)
The most interesting parts are when Spielberg’s life is connected to his movies, for example the bullies who pursued him becoming Duel, the “cry baby” scene in Close Encounters was autobiographical, and the separate parent in several movies was close to his own heart.
Many of Spielberg’s films are from the perspective of innocence and childhood. In the 80s, he remarks to an interviewer that his child-like demeanor ”keeps you young, keeps a smile on your face, and I don’t quite know what it would be like to become an adult”. There are signs of him maturing already in the mid 80s, and his family and friends are given credit for pushing him in new directions.
I’m glad the documentary is not just colleagues patting him on back. Takes its time, not just delving into the successes, but acknowledging his failures, such as his estrangement from his dad, his insecurities about himself, and the flop 1941 where he felt he had ”committed a war crime” by making a comedy about WW2.
Also looks at the critical establishment, some of which called his work sentimental, empty escapism. Or in the case of The Color Purple too pretty to look at and sometimes not realistic enough.
It’s clear he loves to work with the same collaborators. ”I can’t really have sanity, unless I have familiarity”
All in all, an entertaining retropective that surprised me in how critical it was of his filmography. Could have gone a bit deeper into specific films, but then it might have become too dry for a wide audience. Key films are given higher priority.
The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us (2013) (six-part documentary)
Touches on many things and gives a historical overview of the decade. Learnt about the cold war, Soviets shooting down a Korean airliner in 1983, and NATO deploying intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe, despite the biggest peace demonstration in in the 20th century across European countries (Greenham Common) against the decision. The Stanislav Petrov incident in which warning equipment failed and war was narrowly avoided, the missiles turned out to be sunlight reflecting off clouds. The nuclear threat spawning the film The Day After (1983) (see review above) watched by 100 million Americans. The fear of nuclear war was one of the reasons private savings went down and spending went up. In the 80s, people got used to debt, an addiction to consumerism, which ultimately resulted in the crash in 2008.
A long list of other 80s events are covered, in no particular order: The ups and downs of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the 1981 assassination attempts towards Reagan and the Pope, Jane Fonda’s groundbreaking fitness video. The rise of niche TV, CNN, MTV, QVC, cell phones, the Walkman, Pac-Man, yuppies, crack/cocaine, Madonna and her fans, disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, hippie ice cream capitalists Ben and Jerry, founder of Apple Steve Jobs, boundary pushing Calvin Klein and Levis ads, the war between Pepsi and Coca/Cola, skateboard innovator Tony Hawk, the 1984 Manhattan subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, Richard Branson’s luxury transatlantic flights in which champagne was served, the boy Ryan White who contracted AIDS, to show US and Russia are neighbors Lynne Cox bravely swam 4,3 km over the Bering Strait, the 1987 Wall Street Crash aka Black Monday resulting in a Federal Reserve bailout. cautionary movie Wall Street partly based on Ivan Boesky. The revenge fantasy movie 9 to 5, the space shuttle disaster with the first ordinary citizen (teacher Christa McAuliffe) sent to space, the popular Bill Cosby Show which paved the way for black actors and a black president. Music becoming a vehicle for charity and saving lives (Band Aid, Live Aid, Heal the World song), The Simpsons subverting American values and allowing us to rid ourselves of some of our anxieties through laughter.
Shakespeare – The Legacy (2016) (43 min documentary)
Narrated by John Nettles. A lot of William Shakespeare’s life is speculation and the whole truth will probably never be revealed, though they do mention he narrowly escaped the plague as infant mortality was high in Stratford at the time, at school reading the classics by Virgil, Ovid and Seneca, learning to see both sides of a case, and using opposing voices in his plays. He had to rush into marriage due to a pregnancy at just 18, and his son with Anne Hathaway was named Hamlet (!). We don’t know how or why he began his theatre career, or much about his actual romantic life. From records it’s known the Queen’s Men travelled through Stratford and put on plays King Lear, Richard 3rd, and Henry the 5th. It’s possible Shakespeare joined their company and was inspired to write his own versions of the plays. The Holinhed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland is believed to have formed an inspiration for S’s historical plays. The popular comedic character Falstaff delighted audiences during the era.
Shakespeare even invented words like bedroom, zany, gossip, invulnerable, fashionable, eyeball, monumental, savagery, and lonely. And penned memorable phrases such as: made of sterner stuff, vanish into thin air, fight fire with fire, to be cruel to be kind.
The Bard’s body of work is hailed as unparalleled, but no there’s no mention of the authorship controversy and that others could have been ghost writers, nor is there any discussion of his flaws as a writer.
His father John Shakespeare worked his way up as glove maker, wool merchant, and mayor of Stratford. Fined for not paying his merchant taxes to the guild, the authorities confiscating the wool.
However the local community were less harsh, allowing him to continue, and granted him the coat of arms for his services.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome