Weekly Round-Up: June 12-18, 2016

Last week, I saw:

  • Finding Nemo (2003) – First time watching with Cine-Explore, a terrific commentary-esque feature with visual pop-ups including concept art and storyboards. The filmmaker’s insights on the parallels between father Marlin and son Nemo’s journeys were particularly compelling. REQUIRED.
  • Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) – This story of an aging actress and her dedicated assistant started off an an engaging foot, but I grew tired of these unlikable characters and scenes of wraparound dialogue that didn’t progress the story in a meaningful way. NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • The Damned Don’t Cry! (1950) – I love a good Joan Crawford vs. the world flick as much as the next guy, but this quasi-noir was a tough Doll to swallow. Joan Crawford goes from complacent, impoverished housewife to confident, sizzling seductress seemingly overnight… really? NOT RECOMMENDED.
  • Female Trouble (1974) – Wacky John Waters tale of a disturbed young lady who balances being a mother with a rise to stardom as a violent supermodel. Not sure if I like this as much as Pink Flamingos, but still an outrageously fun time. Special shout-out to the theme song, sung by Divine herself! RECOMMENDED.
  • Mommie Dearest (1981) – One of my absolute favorite, could-watch-this-everyday kind of movies, and finally got to see it on the big screen. Terrific audience, shrieking with laughter at all the right times and even reciting entire scenes of poetic dialogue back at the screen. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Finding Dory (2016) – This immensely worthy sequel is more painful, devastating, and emotionally satisfying than its predecessor. An absolute knockout. REQUIRED.

What did you see last week?


“Mommie Dearest” Going Criterion

In prep for today’s (or next week’s) Criterion announcements, I was going through names associated with the films on my Criterion Wish List to search for possible phantom pages on the official Criterion web site. I was searching through, mostly struck out, until….


I noticed Faye Dunaway has one. Of course Faye Dunaway has a terrific career associated with many great films, so that wasn’t a sure thing. But then I searched for and discovered a phantom page for Diana Scarwid (the actress who plays Christina Crawford as an adult). And then Steve Forrest (who plays Joan’s boyfriend Greg) plus the film’s director Frank Perry.

From these, it seems pretty clear that Mommie Dearest is coming to the Criterion Collection. It might not necessarily be this month’s announcements (there’s tons of phantom pages swirling around) but there must be plans to release it eventually.

A few have commented that it’s a bad fit for the Collection, that it doesn’t qualify, etc. I’m too young to have been around when it was first released in theaters, but as a millennial I can first-hand vouch for the cult phenomenon that this film has evolved into. It’s not quite Rocky Horror status but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know of the famous “wire hangers” scene, not to mention the countless quotable oddities the film offers (“Tina!… Bring me the axe!” “Don’t f*** with me, fellas!” to name a few).

Mommie Dearest, on its own merits, is not really a work of art or groundbreaking filmmaking. But the way audiences have embraced it and turned it into a riotous comedy, and even inspired live stage shows and countless drag performances, it certainly has become an “important” film – not on its own terms, but through its legacy.

“Let’s go!”


Blow Out (1981)

A silent killer stalks a house of female coeds. He leers at them from the windows, breaks in, corners a young woman in the shower. As he raises his knife, she lets out a half-assed, laughable scream.

The opening scene of Brian de Palma’s Blow Out, which we later learn to be a sound effect dub session for a second-rate horror flick, plays as a perfect prologue to this crime thriller: exploring the connection (or disconnection) between what we see and what we hear, weighted by the underlying theme of exploitation of women by men.

A sound man (a young John Travolta in his prime) is out on a recording session in the outskirts of Philadelphia, as a car flies off a bridge, with a man and woman trapped inside. He is too late for the man (an up-and-coming politician) but successfully rescues the woman – a living, firsthand witness to the accident.

Fearing the woman may be next, the two pair up and dive deeper to solve the mystery –listening extensively to the sound man’s initial recording, plunging into alternate personae, even charging headfirst into the face of danger. Their major breakthrough comes by procuring video of the incident, and meticulous editing to map the two media together.

Certain plot elements, as well as atmosphere set by the gritty crime underworld, were reminiscent of de Palma’s excellent Dressed to Kill, though it was through these similarities that I came to further appreciate Blow Out’s own strengths:

First, though the captivating performance by Nancy Allen. In Dressed to Kill, she too wears many hats, as a high-end call girl / seductress / detective, paired surprisingly by the personality and charm of a typical girl next door. In Blow Out, however, she is a hopefully naïve, tragic heroine, as vulnerable to the men around her as the coeds from the slasher flick in the movie’s prologue. Her effective performance really illustrates her strong acting chops.

Second, Blow Out has a terrifically innovative use of the split-screen. In addition to capturing multiple images of action and dialogue (as does Dressed to Kill), the split-screen choices further map the subconscious journey from sound to image. As Travolta’s character is outside at night, recording audio, he hears sounds from afar, as the camera reveals blurred images of them – only to come into focus, as he (and we) identify their source.

Not only is Blow Out a nail-biting, and surprisingly moving, crime drama, but the overall discourse in which it operates – this relationship between sound and image – permeates the entire film, supporting not only the narrative but provoking interesting questions about the media of film. As an audience, we may be just as naïve as Nancy Allen’s character, taking what we recognize for granted, and too often lack the conspiracy theorist’s perspective, embodied by John Travolta’s character. This fascinating notion solidifies Blow Out as an important film not only from its exciting plot, but also from its broader implications toward the media of film.