Wednesday, 27 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Boom! (1968)

 Director: Joseph Losey

The things one does for love! I love Elizabeth Taylor and am trying to watch all of her films. Not all of them are available in Australia, but one of those that is is Boom!, which is about ...

Honestly, I don't know. This film is so bad, and part of that badness is the terrible handling of the story. Taylor plays a dying "old' woman who is meant to be seduced by a "youthful" fortune hunter, played by Richard Burton, infamous for being around wealthy old women when they die. For some reason it all happens in a modern house perched precariously on a cliff on the Mediterranean. Stuff happens, often with Taylor wearing rather elaborate costumes (the best part of the film: they do look great on Taylor).

This film has apparently got camp value, and Taylor's performance is rather over the top: Burton doesn't seem to be even trying. None of it makes sense, and I was rendered bored by the whole thing. Burton and Taylor could be dynamite on screen, but here the chemistry is missing: they look like they weren't speaking to each off screen for the whole shoot.

Really, you don't need to see this, unless you share similar taste in films to John Waters, who loves this.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Re-Animator (1985)

 Director: Stuart Gordon

I love it when a horror film goes utterly crazy. It is both horrifying and hilarious, leaving you almost breathless with glee. Re-Animator, with its short running time, goes brilliantly mental very quickly (I'd say somewhere around the re-animated cat), and just when you think it can't get more ridiculous, it does.

Jeffrey Combs is perfect as the 'mad scientist' Herbert West, whose invention - a reagent that reanimates people - has horrible side-effects on the reanimated corpse. He is obsessively focused on his invention and can't help using it, even when doing is a really bad idea (like reanimating he man trying to take credit for his invention). Combs' West's bluntness and inability to suffer those he sees as foolish make him appear almost the most sane, or at least calm, character in the film.

The story follows West as he tries to fine tune his invention in America. He takes up with a follow medical student, Dan Cain (owner of the cat), and somehow Dan's girlfriend Megan's father ends up as one of the corpses. Into the mix is West's nemesis Dr Hill, who also has a thing for Megan. The film's ridiculous plot adds another layer of humour.

The other great element of Re-Animator is its opening titles sequence and theme, which is iconic enough to be parodied in The Simpsons. It is reminiscent of Psycho, and points to the coming madness and chaos of the story.

Re-Animator has everything one wants in an 80s cult horror film: humour, gore, an iconic central performance, a brilliant theme, and a nice chilling ending to round it all off. Great fun!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

I've Just Seen: Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop) (1972)

 Director: Ingmar Bergman

Cries and Whispers, like Persona, looks at the complexities of female relationships. In this film the relationships are familial, between three sisters and a maid. Unlike Persona, where the two women seemed to be blurring into one another, two of the sisters in Cries and Whispers, Maria and Karin, struggle to overcome their own lives in order to support the dying Agnes. Only Anna, the maid, responds with complete love and devotion to Agnes in her pain.

The film doesn't follow a linear storyline, instead flashing back in time to memories of Agnes' childhood, Maria's infidelity, Karin's horrific episode of self-mutilation (which made me queasy), and Anna's reflection on her dead child. There is also a scene, which could be a dream or a real shared experience for the women, where Agnes comes back to life and begs her sisters to comfort her. This engimatic approach makes this a film one experiences and then pieces together afterwards.

The cinematography is utterly beautiful, with its etheral white costumes contrasted with the plush red furniture and decoration in the house. It keeps us entralled in this emotionally complex situation, as the sisters and Anna grapple with their own fears around death, their bodies, and questions of happiness and faith.

Like almost all of Bergman's films, I want to watch this again to see what a second viewing reveals about the characters. The film's overall tone is one of deep introspection that reveals many painful truths for the women (and the audience), yet the ending is one of quiet hope and joy for sisterly togetherness. As devastating as it is beautiful.

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.