The Weekly Roundup

I’ve been kind of lazy as a writer recently and I’ve been pouring a lot of the energy I can muster into developing some more feature-style pieces for this blog, so I got sort of behind on my Movie Madness Raid posts. So instead, I’m trying this style of movie-diary feature: a once-a-week roundup of what I’ve watched (whether from Movie Madness or not) and some brief thoughts on each. Because I started it last Monday, I’m aiming for making it a Monday night piece.

So without further ado, the first weekly roundup, covering October 23-30, 2017.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
I’ve met some film dudes who are really into John Carpenter; I’ve never been one, but the more I see the more I get it. I can’t think of the last horror movie I saw that was this bizarrely cerebral, which is exactly what a Lovecraft homage should be. Sam Neil calling bullshit on his own story predates Scream‘s meta-horror,  inverted, but also in a way that very cleverly makes the audience a conscious part of the film itself. The conflation (and/or confusion) of reality with fiction also feels particularly resonant in the current culture–maybe more so than it did at the time, since it seems like this was largely panned on release. Also, who doesn’t love Jürgen Prochnow being sinister?

Baskin (2015)
I remember this surreal horror outing getting some buzz when it was released here in the States last year–apparently one of very few Turkish films to get a US release. It’s pretty beautiful; there’s a lot of excellent use of soft light and vivid color, which only contributes to the hellishness once the slow-burn plot finally kicks into high gear. And damn if Mehmet Cerrahoglu’s Baba isn’t the most unsettling movie villain I’ve seen in a while, even if it’s not clear exactly what he wants (or what he even is, for that matter). There are wisps of some lofty metaphor here–the film presents us with a key at its climax, practically daring the audience to solve the puzzle–but it’s creepy and different enough to be interesting even without untangling.

Personal Shopper (2016)
Movies like this are why I can’t organize my library by genre. It’s not not a thriller, but to call it one feels like missing the point. It’s a ghost story… sort of? It’s supernatural, certainly, but it’s sort of indefinite on ghosts. It is definitely a character drama–and man, Kristen Stewart continues to surprise; she carries this whole thing and does it well–but that label doesn’t capture the chilling feel of it. My instinct is to approach this as an auteurist work–it has a very similar tone to Clouds of Sils Maria, a kind of spacious naturalism–but those are, presently, the only two Assayas movies I’ve seen. I aim to correct that, and soon.

Carlos (2010)
…like right now. I have been somewhat intimidated by the 339 minute running time but the film moves along at a pretty brisk clip throughout–it’s exhausting but it’s not boring. It helps that it’s pretty dense with a lot of context to establish. Carlos himself is held up as an epitome of leftist revolutionary failure, his personality in the film and its demons reflected in the larger geopolitical milieu in which they play out, but once again this is ultimately a pretty intimate character study. This seems to be what this filmmaker does but he does it very well, at least recently. And Edgar Ramirez is excellent under such scrutiny, transforming before the camera both physically and in sympathy. This is also an amazing film to listen to, partially for the surprisingly expressive use of music throughout, but also because I can’t think of a film where I’ve heard a more diverse palate of spoken languages.

Zero Kelvin (1995)
Although based on a novel, this Norwegian thiller has a kind of stage-like feel to it, probably because of the small cast (a bitter, raging Stellan Skarsgård, his somewhat condescending nemesis Gard B Eidsvold, and the icy Bjørn Sundquist are pretty much it) and the claustrophobic setting of a Greenland fur-trapper’s hut, circa 1925. The complex dynamic that develops between the three of the characters–Edsvold’s Larsen and Skarsgård’s Randbæk in particular–is definitely allegorical about the nature of man. Their argument, which both men seem unable to let go on a fundamental level, verges on a philosophy debate about hope, love, and desire without being too stilted about it to create a real, occasionally nail-biting narrative tension.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Alain Resnais’s arthouse classic is as fascinating and inscrutable as its considerable reputation suggests. It follows a kind of abstract, musical logic, full of repetition and divergence and with allusions to mathematics, art, and philosophy, all somehow wrapped around the story of an affair between a man (Georgio Albertazzi), a woman (Delphine Seyrig), and and the interventions of a second man who may be her husband (Sacha Pitoëff). But nothing about the film is easily pinned down, nothing can be taken for granted, which makes trying to interpret it feel a bit like chasing a will-o-the-wisp. People who enjoy that sort of thing (as I do, I confess) will find a lot to like here–a really resonant tonal control, a lot of enigmatic wit, some beautifully composed cinematography by Sacha Vierny, and a plot that constantly devours itself right as it starts to fit together–but anyone else will probably find this pretentious and/or extremely boring.

The Beyond (1981)
Got this on the reputation of gorehound director Lucio Fulci and, replete with popped eyeballs, face-eating spiders, and a lot of melted flesh, it did not disappoint in the squick factor. The story, concerning flighty young Liza (Catriona MacColl) inheriting a decrepit Louisiana hotel with a portal to hell in the basement, is more repulsive than actually scary. But the movie’s more obvious flaws–notably its oddly loping pace and stilted dialog that’s done no favors by post-synchronous sound–actually end up making the film even more surreal and bizarre than it already is. And it is; there’s something to this more than just so much viscera. It’s shot through with what MacColl calls “macabre Italian poetry” in the DVD intro.

Anguish (1987)
This feature by Spanish artist Bigas Luna was recommended to me and I went into it pretty blind. All I really knew is that I found it in the horror section, and it does follow a lot of the tropes of the genre, but to call it a horror movie doesn’t quite capture what it is. It begins as a movie about a killer (Michael Lerner), hypnotized and/or imbued with mystical power by his mother (Zelda Rubenstein), killing people and taking their eyes. Shortly, though, it opens out into a series of metacinematic reflections and becomes something altogether more abstract. What I really feel the urge to do is dive into possible interpretations–in a very term-paper-ish sort of way–so know that that’s the kind of movie this is. But also know I enjoyed watching it enough that I want to do so again so I can discuss it with someone. It’s also the perfect movie to end this post on, since it would make a fantastic double-feature with In the Mouth of Madness.