Weekly Round-Up: May 29 – June 04, 2016

My Memorial Day weekend was pretty packed, so not as much movie time as usual – managed to squeeze in some good ones though:

  • X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – This film’s intriguing premise (Oscar Isaac as a millennia-old mega-mutant who’s been awakened and must be stopped!) is slowed down by silly dialogue and the cliche “catching up on where everybody is, before bringing them all together.” We find out how Professor Xavier becomes bald, though! NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Night and Fog (1955) – It’s hard to say you “like” this kind of movie, but this mid-twentieth century nonfiction film (not quite a documentary) is undeniably powerful for its horrifying imagery and introspective narration. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Immortal Story (1966) – Unbearably long (at less than an hour) take of a wealthy older man who becomes obsessed with living out an urban legend, by recruiting a young sailor and providing a woman for him to couple with. Everything about this film felt stagnant, from the lifeless dialogue to Orson Welles, at possibly his biggest, perched within his throne. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Blue Velvet (1986) – Arguably David Lynch’s breakout film, finding his auteur voice as a balance between classic film sensibilities and unsettling surrealism. This loaded crime mystery is hypnotic, dreamy, and sublimely beautiful. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Valley of the Dolls (1967) – Another delightful “so-bad-it’s-good” flick, about three young women in the 1960s who succumb to booze and pills. I got to see this in theaters with an enthusiastic audience, cheering for key moments (wig-pulling) and outrageous dialogue (“You know how bitchy f**s can be”). Not for everyone, but if you love camp this one is REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: May 22-28, 2016

This week had limited viewings (I kept falling asleep!), but I managed to get through:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – Dizzying (in a good way) trip through time as Wolverine is sent back to the 1970s to prevent Mystique from committing a political assassination. I’m not sure how all the timelines fit together (the events from the first set of X-Men movies don’t fit with what apparently went down in the 1970s) but it’s a decent enough popcorn flick. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966) – This later “Elvis in Hawaii” film has weaker music, less joy, and feels deflated compared to the earlier Blue Hawaii (which I loved). Elvis pairs up with a buddy to start a helicopter charter business, but early-30s Elvis seems over the kooky escapades his character is forced into, delivering an unenthusiastic performance. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Troll 2 (1990) – This classic “so-bad-it’s-good” movie features a family on an exchange program to vacation in Nilbog (“Goblin” backwards!) as their son (who has visions of his late grandfather) tries to warn them of the impending danger before it’s too late. Troll 2 also boasts a wonderfully over-the-top performance of Deborah Reed as Creedence, “mother” of the trolls and part-time seductress. RECOMMENDED.

Also, honorable mention for Thank Your Lucky Stars (which I’ve seen before and adore) and Taste of Cherry, both of which I started and fell asleep during.

What did you see last week?

Weekly Round-Up: January 31 – February 06, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Mildred Pierce (1945) – Another essential female-driven film noir, led by a career-driven Joan Crawford determined to win the love of her terrible daughter through financial success. In addition to the sheer quality of this movie, it’s also fun to watch as a time capsule of 1940s Los Angeles. REQUIRED.
  • Marty (1955) – Equal parts charming and frustratingly slow, this 1955 Best Picture winner never seems to reach its full potential. While there’s almost not enough story to fill its lean runtime, at its best, this comedy-drama about two middle-aged adults who struggle to find love is genuinely emotional and authentic. RECOMMENDED.
  • Annie Hall (1977) – I used to love this movie as a kid, but now I find Woody Allen’s angsty frustration less comical and more obnoxious. Diane Keaton is a delight to balance out the Allen side of the spectrum, and I appreciate its all-over-the-place structure, but this film didn’t work for me like it did 15 years ago. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Closely Watched Trains (1966) – A young man is determined to lose his virginity to a pretty colleague, all under the curtain of WWII-era Czechoslovakia. This offbeat film has an interesting feel, but ultimately didn’t click with me. I found the characters pretty distant and didn’t find the story elements particularly compelling. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Hail, Caesar! (2016) – A movie lover’s dream, this comedy-mystery from the Coen Brothers is a dazzling journey into the 1950s studio system with a delightful menagerie of “types.” The best discovery is the unknown (to me) actor Alden Ehrenreich, who seemed to me a mix of brooding James Dean with sympathetic Montgomery Clift, but Wikipedia says is a Kirby Grant type. But whether or not you can pin down specific people and places, Hail, Caesar! will be instantly familiar and more importantly, entertaining. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Easy A (2010) – Clever teen comedy about a virgin who builds herself a fake bad reputation. Emma Stone really holds her own in the film that (I believe) is her first starring role. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see last week?

Persona (1966)

Well, if I thought Orpheus was wacky, I sure wasn’t ready for the complex juggernaut of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. This confounding yet hypnotic work brings together two very different women, puts them together in isolation, and very possibly unites them as one.

Often ambitious films like this, with complex ambitions yet lighter narrative, lose momentum as they chug along, while this one actually had (for me) a sour start that got all the more intriguing. The glow of a projector ignites the screen, and we witness disturbing images of violence and isolation accompanied by screeching, unnerving sounds. After a seizure-inducing titles sequence of fast cuts and pounding timpani, we are eased into a (seemingly) more typical narrative structure.

A young, somewhat naive nurse has been assigned the difficult assignment to care for an established actress who, despite all signs of healthiness, has mysteriously gone mute. It is soon decided that the two leave the hospital for some R&R at the head nurse’s summer home on the coast.

From here on, the plot unravels hypnotically while somehow believably. The nurse carries out all the conversation (duh) but builds a relationship with her patient, and eventually reveals some troubling past sins she’d committed. She confesses such actions with no prodding or interrogation from her counterpart, with her projection of a friendship upon the actress as the real only momentum fueling her disturbing monologue.

As the film progresses, additional acts, both large and small, trigger more and more impassioned reactions from the nurse, seemingly on the brink of hysteria. The more she invests into this one-sided relationship the more desperate and anguished she grows.

In Persona’s final moments, we hear cameras whirring as our point of view glides back to reveal the actress performing on a film set. My take on this is the projection an audience, or an obsessed fan, can place upon fictional works or even specific stars. Like the nurse with the actress, the relationship between the “parties” is truly a one-way road. The impact attained from such investment and interpretation is just what you put into it.

Granted, this is a reading from one murky viewing of this film; upon additional visits, or if different elements had stood out to me beyond that fateful shot of a camera, my take on Persona could have been a very different one. Like the nurse with the actress, though, there is so much meaning and depth to uncover within this film if you only search for yourself in the art.