Monday, 18 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Coma (1978)

 Director: Michael Crichton

Coma is not strictly a horror film, but its subject matter - patients being left braindead after routine operations - plays on common fears about medical procedures, and questions our complete reliance on doctors to always do the right thing. Genevieve Bujold's Dr Susan Wheeler starts investigating these supposedly random events and uncovers something sinister.

This is the third film starring Bujold I have watched, and she is a good here as she was in Anne of the Thousand Days and Dead Ringers. She radiants intelligence, and her doggedness in pursuing these irregularities is not painted as a caring, female quality, but a rigorous desire for the truth. The studio apparently had thought about casting a male in the lead (Paul Newman), but part of the tension of the story comes from Susan's gender. The senior male staff ignore her findings, and even her partner, fellow doctor Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas) complains about her working too hard, and wants a more traditional relationship.

This is a neat little thriller film that engages with medical ethics in a clever way. While it gets a little melodramatic in the final third, Genevieve Bujold is also a joy to watch.

Friday, 15 September 2017

I've Just Seen: mother! (2017)

 Director: Darren Aronofsky

Every review you read about mother! is going to say 'This film will divide audiences' or 'This film is not for everyone.' And it is true. Aronofsky has created something that hard to explain and makes no apologies for its allusions and themes. You will come out of the film feeling something, be it stunned, angry or confused (or all three).

I don't want to say much about the film, as it is one that benefits going in as cold as possible. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her poet husband Him (Javier Bardem) in a house in the country. She is fixing it up while he tries to write. One day Man (Ed Harris) arrives and stays, much to Mother's chagrin. Then his wife (Michelle Pfieffer) turns up, and things start to get weirder and weirder.

There is a clear allegory in the film, though I only pieced parts together hours after seeing it. You could read it through a feminist lens, with an environmental view, or even with a Biblical eye. Lawrence is wonderful as Mother. The whole film rests on her performance, and a good portion of it is close-ups of her face as she reacts to the chaos ensuing around her. She keeps us anchored as the film's dream logic takes us to extremes.

I really liked this, but know others won't. As I was leaving the cinema, the woman in front of me was telling the usher it was a 'shocker' (Australian for "shockingly terrible"). Like with many films I have seen, I don't know anyone in my immediate acquaintance I'd recommend this to, but am looking forward to seeing it again and noticing new things about it.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

I've Joined Letterboxd!

Here is my profile.

If you are on it too, please follow me, and I'll more than likely follow you (in some sort of weird circle!). If you are not on Letterboxd, you can look at what I have (and have not) seen, and what I think about it; and judge me for my poor and/or good taste!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Black Christmas (1974)

Director: Bob Clark

Black Christmas has one of the best ending for a horror film I have seen. Without giving too much away, it leaves the viewer with a deep sense of unease, wondering what on earth is going to happen next, and slightly shocked that the film managed to trick us into imagining a different ending.

The film is set in a Canadian sorority house just before everyone leaves for Christmas. The sorority has been receiving creepy phone calls from a rather disturbed male caller; we assume it is from the same person we saw climb into the house in the film's opening scene. Our main character is Jess, who is dealing with a grumpy boyfriend, and her unwanted pregnancy to said boyfriend. Margot Kidder is a fellower sorority sister, and the whole group are overseen by housemother Mrs Mac (who is more loose than some of the girls, with her stores of booze hidden around the house). After one of the girls, Clare, disappears, a search starts around the university, until other girls start to disappear: and the phone calls get more and more violent.

The start of the film is a little slow, but it gets more and more tense as it goes on, leading to its brilliant ending. The editing in the slasher scenes is nicely jarring, emoting violent rather than showing it. The first-person camera work used for the killer is effective in its creepiness, as the man sneeks around the house, glimpsing future victims as they wander around. The film's famous image of the girl suffocated in a rocking chair occurs early on, and is used throughout the film to show how close, yet how far the women and police are to solving this case.

I really liked this. It is just as much a psychological horror story as a slasher film, doing what Hitchcock describes as suspense: the killer is the "bomb" in the story, and we wait anxiously, hoping someone discovers him before he "goes off" (kills) again (and so we can find out who it is).

Friday, 8 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Girl Shy (1924); The Freshman (1925); The Kid Brother (1927)

Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor (for the first two films); Ted Wilde, J. A. Howe, Harold Lloyd, Lewis Milestone

My local library recently added a free film streaming service to its online resources. Because it is meant to be an educational resource, the service has a great deal of early cinema classics, as well as foreign language films. This, naturally, suits me perfectly. A large number of Harold Lloyd films are included, and seeing as he appears briefly in the 1001+ list, I thought I'd check them out.

I can see why Lloyd was such a star; he is incredibly likeable. While he started his career imitating Chaplin's tramp character, Lloyd went on to develop his own persona. Where Chaplin is Dickenesque in his exploration of poverty through his tramp, and Keaton is stony-faced as he deals with the chaos going-on around him, Lloyd's Harold plays with ideas of masculinity. In Girl Shy he is just that, playing a tailor unable to speak to women without a considerable stutter; The Freshman follows Harold's attempts to be popular at college, using quirks he has copied from a film; and in The Kid Brother he is referred to as the boy of the family, and his often compared to his burly brothers and father. He even does the domestic work in the house. This underdog status, along with his sweet, shy smile, make him a rather adorable romantic lead.

Like Keaton, Lloyd was renowned for his athleticism. He scales the branches of an immensely tall tree just to keep his beloved in sight; he gets constantly tackled by football players; and in Girl Shy performs one of the most impressive chase scenes in film history. These three films cast him alongside Jobyna Ralston: they were in six films altogether. They have great chemistry, and Ralston sometimes gets to be part of the joke, not just the object of desire.

Only one of these films is included on the 1001+ list - The Kid Brother - the only entry from Lloyd's filmography. This is a shame, because any one of these, along with Safety Last! could be included; they are all funny, clever and impressive, showing the joys of silent comedy as brilliantly as Chaplin and Keaton do too.

Monday, 4 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

 Director: Eli Craig

Well, its three from three for SJHoneywell's horror recommendations. A mixture of parody and homage, as well as a subverting of the stereotypes of horror films, how could I not enjoy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil!

Like The Cabin in the Woods, Craig's film plays on the horror staple of a group of college students going on a trip into the woods, and a rather eerie cabin with references to previous owner's violence. However, the owners of the cabin are Tucker and Dale, two hillbillies with pure intentions for their weekend getaway: fishing and clear-up of the cabin. The college students take against them after an awkward (and hilarious) encounter at the local petrol station, and it gets even worse when one of them, Allison, ends up unconscious in Tucker and Dale's cabin.

The deaths in this film are both gruesome and hilarious, all of them accidents that incriminate Tucker and Dale. The woodchipper scene was a highlight, its slapstick a more violent type of Buster Keaton sketch. The relationship that develops between Dale and Allison is sweetly handled, and nicely draws out more of their characters than one usually gets in a horror film.

This really works if you love horror, and have seen enough horror-in-the woods American horror films to get all the references. I also like that its skewers stereotypes about its characters: that the attractive, 'educated' characters may actually be the "evil" ones, not the supposedly creepy country folk.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I've Just Seen: Dunkirk (2017)

 Director: Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk, as an event, seems to occupy a similar space in British history that Gallipoli does in Australia. It is used as an example of national character, where the country's defining characteristics were displayed not through victory in battle, but in its determination to keep on going, despite the odds. This is certainly the approach Nolan takes in his film.

While I have liked Nolan's films in the past, and cannot say anything against the look of his films, I haven't been entirely convinced by his storytelling. I feel that sometimes he relies too heavily on exposition to propel his twisty plots. While the dialogue in Dunkirk is not earth-shatteringly great, and is arguably the weakest part of the film, Nolan doesn't lean on it. Instead, the actors are often left to simply act with their faces, letting us see or wonder at their feelings. The story is really well-structured, as we jump between three different stories - land, sea, and air, over one week, one day and one hour respectively. The three gradually converge as the move to get over the Channel becomes more desperate.

The film looks wonderful largely due to Nolan's use of film stock. The blue of the water almost pops out of the screen in some scenes, and the lack of digital manipulation makes the air battles in particular look and feel real. The sound design and the music are what really brings the whole thing together. The roar of the Spitfires' engines vibrates in your body (with the help of the cinema's sound system), as does Hans Zimmer's score, with its clock-ticking motif and very emotive use of Elgar's Nimrod, a beautiful, stirring piece of music.

I am really glad I went and saw this on the big screen, and wish there was an IMAX cinema near me. While the film would be impressive on a TV screen, you wouldn't get that immersive quality that the big screen gives you. The loudness of the sound was a good thing, particular as the people sitting next to me saw fit to read out the words on the screen, and talk throughout (argh!); it was so loud that I mostly couldn't hear them.