Weekly Round-Up: May 15-21, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Woman in the Dunes (1964) – At its best, this demented love story is an absolute thriller, chronicling the kidnapping and imprisonment of one man by a rural Japanese village. Unfortunately, this intriguing premise loses momentum and is all but buried by its 2 1/2 hour running time. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Descendants (2015) – I adore this movie, to the point where my friend Albert and I recorded an audio commentary this week (to be released soon) analyzing the film even further. The Disney villains’ kids go to high school together – what more could you want? RECOMMENDED.
  • The Witch (2016) – Even better on home video than in theaters, thanks to subtitles! I even watched it with audio commentary which provided additional insights. Nearly six months in, this might be my pick of top movie of 2016. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Blue Hawaii (1961) – Silly but enjoyable Elvis musical about a young man torn between his destiny as a pineapple heir and staying a beach bum with his friends. Great songs and Angela Lansbury are icing on the cake. RECOMMENDED.
  • The New World (2005) – Spectacular historical drama exploring the intertwining lives of John Smith, Pocahontas, and John Rolfe. From what I’ve seen, this is by far my favorite Malick film. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Black Moon (1975) – Surrealist trashfest that is equal parts Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and Godard’s Weekend, but with none of the wit or purpose. I get that there was something about a battle of the sexes, but couldn’t grasp how hordes of naked kids running about or old ladies talking to pet rats contributed to this idea. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Weekly Round-Up: October 25-31, 2015

This “victory lap” of the final week before Halloween turned out pretty interesting. Typically I save the universally acclaimed masterpieces of horror (The ExorcistThe HauntingRosemary’s Baby to name a few) for this key period – due to unexpected time constraints plus wanting to just see more new movies, I ended up with a unique assortment. (Am I the only person who’s ever seen Haxan and Escape to Witch Mountain back-to-back?)

  • Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) – This marks the sixth movie that follows the same infrastructure, but this saga can’t stop being entertaining, compelling, and remorselessly scary. In this (supposedly) final entry, once the terror starts going it doesn’t stop. Without spoiling too much, for a final film, it really does wrap up the mythology of the series and explain why these events transpire (even going back to the very first film). I know these movies don’t work for everybody, so I’d say RECOMMENDED to the casual viewer and REQUIRED for fans of the Paranormal Activity saga.
  • Alien: Resurrection (1997) – The premise of the fourth and (currently) final of the Ripley Alien films feels straight out of fanfiction (dead Ripley is cloned and is a super-Ripley, who maintains some but not all of her memories from the first three movies). Unfortunately the storyline feels like a rehash of what we’ve already seen, though there are new elements to broaden the complexity of the Alien species, and actually tie into Prometheus (the prequel most people are mixed on, but I personally love) pretty well. NOT RECOMMENDED unless you’re an Alien completist.
  • Mulholland Drive (2001) – Possibly my favorite movie of the 2000s, and certainly swirling in my list of top movies. David Lynch’s neo-noir thriller is both hauntingly familiar and wholly original. Even if the (incredibly rich) narrative doesn’t quite click upon first viewing, the emotional journey supercedes the logical one. This is the rare film that challenges your mind as much as it moves your heart. REQUIRED.
  • Häxan (1922) – This movie was only on my radar due to its inclusion in the Criterion Collection and on their list of “Scary Movies” (which the previous film is on, too). A very odd, silent, pseudo-documentary on witchcraft, sweeping across history recreating scenes of rituals, the Inquisition, even nuns gone wild. This is a movie where the sum of its parts feels greater than the whole, with specific vignettes & images standing out while the overall journey is less riveting. RECOMMENDED (for the film buff only).
  • Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) – This was actually my first time seeing Disney’s wacky 1970s sci-fi mystery. Two (very likable) kids with mysterious powers are pursued by Ray Milland and the lousy psychiatrist from Halloween, and many cool special effects ensue. RECOMMENDED.
  • The Others (2001) – Genuinely emotional horror film about one mother protecting her children from the new presence invading her home. This feels like the tragic ghost story film Guillermo del Toro keeps getting close to making, but The Others takes the cake. (Tidbit: I only saw this movie when it came out because, at the time, I had a crush on Nicole Kidman.) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – This masterpiece speaks for itself. Top-notch family entertainment in every way, boasting a wildly imaginative cast of characters, superb score by Danny Elfman, and wonderfully clever premise. Another landmark film in the era of the Disney Renaissance. REQUIRED.

What did you see last week to celebrate Halloween?

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

The most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen, both in content and the hard truths it presents.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is a not-too-far-fetched allegory about four  libertines toward the end of Italian fascism. These four powerful men kidnap eighteen young men and women and transport them an isolated house in the countryside. During the titular 120 days they spend there, the men rape, assault, abuse, and dehumanize the youth in increasingly vile and horrifying ways. One of the most memorable scenes is one in which a libertine defecates on the floor, and forces one of the women to eat it. The camera does not look away.

This is one of many squirm-in-your-seat moments that never seem to give up in this movie. When the visuals of the film aren’t stimulating your gag reflex, however, the dialogue and mood of the film are just as troubling. An older woman who helps runs things at the house cheerfully recounts stories of her youth, in which she too was subjected to terrible acts. Now, as an older woman though, she laughs it away and accepts it as perfectly normal.

Such is a recurring theme throughout the film. As the 120 days progress, the victims become less like themselves and more like the captors who subject them to such cruelty. The movie begins with all the youth on equal ground but by the end, they turn against each other, even torturing and raping each other. They fulfill one of the film’s most profound quotes, “Nothing’s more contagious than evil.”

Salo is not an easy film to get through and it’s not one I would necessarily recommend. It is not for everybody and nothing can really prepare you for it. If you do have the stomach for it, however, it is certainly worthwhile and thought-provoking. It is a testament to how powerful, albeit shocking, film can be.