Tag: mystery

Festival Review: The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (2014) at 366 Weird Movies

Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, part of the Boston Underground Film Festival.

I remember when Amer came out some years ago and it caught my eye first for its truly gorgeous poster, and second for its female co-director/co-writer, Hélène Cattet, since there aren’t a ton of women making horror films. I never actually got around to see Amer, but I did take advantage of BUFF’s screening of The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, the Belgian directing duo’s latest feature. Stylishly surreal, visually sumptuous, and employing a range of different techniques, the film is beautiful and weird in many ways but unfortunately suffers from a dragged-out pace and tedious repetition. I started out really engaged but ended up just feeling really uncomfortable for two hours. I wrote a longer response to it over at 366 Weird Movies, so check it out!

An aside: The best part of the screening was actually the short film shown before the feature, “Belagile” by local director Anastasia Cazabon. It’s got witches and a catchy lo-fi pop soundtrack and self-empowerment and psychedelic color schemes. Cazabon works at the Brattle Theatre (where BUFF takes place) and filmed part of it there, so it was neat to see a recognizable setting!

Movie Review: The Wicker Man (1973)

wicker-man-1973-4
Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

It was hard for me to believe that something as ridiculous and terrible as The Wicker Man remake came out of what many considered to be a top-notch horror film, but nevertheless I had high hopes for the original Wicker Man. Set entirely on a remote Scottish island, the film follows police detective Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) as he looks into the disappearance of a young girl. He finds the small island community of Summerisle to be a weird, weird place, where everyone is constantly getting naked for no reason and singing all the time and committing blasphemy or whatever, plus they all lie blatantly about the missing girl. Within a few days Sgt Howie is no further along in his investigation and essentially trapped there, gradually becoming convinced the islanders are planning a human sacrifice as part of their May Day pagan rituals.

This film is pretty bizarre, mostly in how it merges various genre elements into a somewhat mis-matched whole, but for the most part it works as an oddball thriller. It is very much a product of its time, a blatant commentary on the danger of cults when they had a much stronger presence in the mainstream consciousness. It is a dark but almost quaint story today, with Howie’s exaggerated morality and blustering religious outrage making him a ridiculous figure, and certainly not a sympathetic one. He’s also not a very good detective, never stopping to ponder why a letter was sent to him about a missing girl whose mother denies her existence. What makes The Wicker Man stand out is its memorably strange imagery and nihilistic plotting, and the charismatic performance of Christopher Lee as the devious Lord Summerisle. Also the music, since this is almost a musical and that was just not expected! Folksy tunes and ancient ballads and such.

This is an example of expectations vs reality, a common problem I experience when viewing acclaimed films. This is billed as a horror movie, and I was excited to see yet another highly-recommended horror film I’d missed, but I honestly don’t see what makes this horror. It’s not just that it’s not scary, but it doesn’t try to be scary. I viewed it as a straight mystery/thriller with some surreal visuals but no supernatural or slasher or other horror-type elements. I kept expecting something scary or truly horrific to happen and so I was kind of underwhelmed, but maybe I’m just not shocked by an asshole being burned alive by hippie pagans. It didn’t bother me. Also I know there are different versions of this movie and I don’t think I saw the full cut, it’s whatever netflix sent me. Anyway I did like The Wicker Man, but I to sort of had to change how I was watching it when I realized it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. It’s a wonderfully eccentric film and I loved how unapologetic it was in its weirdness. Howie has no idea what’s going on, and I didn’t have much of a better idea, but for the most part the movie didn’t really care anyway.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Umm another movie about cults, I guess? I haven’t seen too many, but can recommend Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Master, and Suspiria.

Movie Review: Cronos (1993)

cronos
Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

Way back in October 2011 I took a trip to Toronto for the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and it remains one of my absolute favorite vacations because everything was fun and everyone was AWESOME. I feel like the Toronto film blogger/writer community is collectively enticing the rest of us to move there, and it’s totally working. While there I got to see Guillermo del Toro speak at the TIFF Lightbox, and he sort of tracked his whole career through film clips and anecdotes, and I learned a bit about the two I’d never seen: Cronos and Mimic. Ever since catching a glimpse of a mysterious older man licking blood off the floor of a sparkling white marble bathroom, I knew Cronos should be a priority. Yet somehow it took me until now to see it, thanks to the Brattle‘s del Toro retrospective. The film concerns an antiques dealer and loving grandfather, Jesús (Federico Lippi), who stumbles upon a device that can give its user immortality, but with the unfortunate side effect of bloodlust. A sickly American millionaire (Claudio Brook) and his antagonistic nephew (Ron Perlman) have been seeking the device for years, and will stop at nothing to claim it from Jesús, who’s been using it despite not fully understanding its capabilities.

Del Toro’s first feature film, Cronos is an impressive indicator of the filmmaker’s strong storytelling skills and visual innovation already in play. (It also reveals his interest in steampunky clockwork at an earlier juncture than I thought!) With stark, meticulous shots and a script that relies more on its premise’s implications for its horror than outright scares, the film is a dark but entertaining venture. I loved Ron Perlman’s performance, playing a comedic but grossly violent character who resents his abusive uncle but does his bidding anyway, presumably out of greed for the sick man’s money. He’s obsessed with getting a nose job, but he keeps getting punched and his nose just gets worse. He adds a nice dose of humor in an otherwise strictly dramatic film, and played well against Federico Luppi’s confused desperation. There is a streak of melodrama running throughout the story, highlighted by the intense visuals and emotional story, but the actors keep things grounded enough to not overwhelm the audience. There’s an unfortunately sappy element in Jesús’s wordless granddaughter, who was very cute but so obvious in her status as a plot device.

I loved the blood and guts, the extreme color contrasts, the weirdness, the grubby mortician, the dancing, the subverted religious imagery, and, of course, the vampirism. It’s at times off-putting in its pacing, and I can’t quite get over the eye-rolling sentimentality with the granddaughter, but all in all it’s a seriously strong debut from del Toro. Its themes of aging, sickness, and immortality seem out of place in the writing of a twentysomething filmmaker, but he handles them adeptly and maturely, and set the stage for the fantastical and moving films to come.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: We all know my favorite weird, dark vampire movie is Thirst, and I will always recommend that over almost any other movie in general, really. Other good pairings would be The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro’s dramatic ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War, or Phase IV, which came to mind with all the weird bug stuff in Cronos.

2013 Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part I

Psycho
Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, all on 35mm.

Oh hey, it’s that time of year again! Every year the lovely Coolidge Corner Theatre hosts a wild all-night horror marathon complete with live music, a costume contest, and lots of long-haired nerds. This year I was again joined by the magnificent Katie and her horror-loving beau, and together we took in several spooky classics. Also for the first time I participated in the costume contest! I forget to get a full photo but here’s a selfie from when I tested out my costume at a party, I was of course Dr Herbert West from Re-Animator, The Perfect Movie. I was a little bummed that this year there weren’t any video compilations from the Whore Church but it looks like they were premiering new stuff in Austin that weekend so I guess that’s why. We still got some fun trailers between films. Anyway, read on for the first three films!

1 Psycho (1960)
I hadn’t seen this film since maybe high school (?) so it was neat to revisit it on a big screen, as I remembered all the main points but was still surprised by some of the details. It’s a strangely-paced film, ostensibly a crime drama about a woman’s choice to steal money from her job, but really it’s about this unstable killer with whom she happens to cross paths. Hitchcock gradually shifts the focus and the perspective from her story to his story, and so the plot moves kind of weirdly but it all works thanks to the unsettling script, strong cast, and instantly-iconic camerawork. I love love Anthony Perkins here, he’s amazingly adept at switching between affable charmer and sinister sociopath, and it’s totally believable. Janet Leigh rocks some old-timey brassieres, a few cars are destroyed, and several people are murdered. Best of all I got to make a hilarious joke about Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score, pretending like I thought it was stolen from Re-Animator. Everyone likes this joke.
4.5/5

2 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
I saw this at the Horrorthon in 2011 so I was actually disappointed that they would show it again so soon- One thing I’ve liked about these events is that I’m always introduced to lots of awesome new-to-me films, but this year I’d already seen 3 of the 7 films being shown. Anyway, it’s still a good movie! Like Psycho, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is loosely inspired by Ed Gein, but much more visceral and gory in its horror. It’s got some serious scares, and an impressively resilient final girl. I mostly love all the freaky stuff with Leatherface’s family- like it starts off as this rural slasher but it gets SO weird as we really go further into this house and meet the inhabitants. The blood-sucking grandfather left the strongest impression on me this time, I didn’t remember how gross and creepy he was.
4/5

3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
OH MAN OH MAN. I’d been putting this one off for a while because I found the premise so scary (he gets you in your dreams? That’s fucking terrifying!), but I’m so glad I was basically forced to watch it here because I looooooved it. This movie is such a great combination of 80s ridiculousness, honestly frightening ideas, and amazing effects. I loved the characters, especially doofy Johnny Depp and the lovely Heather Langenkamp in the lead, whose wonderfully resolute character I really admired. And obviously Robert Englund as Freddie Krueger is fantastic, a truly memorable villain that I hear just gets snarkier and snarkier as the films go on, so I definitely plan on checking out some of the sequels. This one is pretty perfect all by itself though, gory and fun and chock-full of big hair, with a dreamlike atmosphere well-attuned to the subject matter. Nice score, too. There’s a reason it made my recent horror list!
4.5/5

Ok check back next time for Part II of the Horrorthon, which I mostly stayed awake for!

Movie Review: L.A. Confidential (1997)

la-confidentual
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ harddrive.

We’ve had this on our to-watch list for a while but every time it came up we either weren’t in the mood or didn’t have the time for it. But now the time has come, and I’ve seen L.A. Confidential. Yep. Based on James Ellroy’s novel, the film follows three very different police officers hanging around 1950’s Los Angeles. The murder of a corrupt detective and a sex worker during a diner robbery launches a multifaceted investigation that eventually uncovers a number of seedy underbellies- drugs, homicide, prostitution, blackmail, etc. Three officers- the naive but opportunistic Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), the brutish but sentimental Bud White (Russell Crowe), and the smarmy but mildly ethical Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey)- open their own separate cases that unexpectedly come together in violent, tragic ways.

Sooooo. This movie is kind of a big deal, I was aware of that, and while I didn’t know many details about it I guess I had high expectations just because it’s so famous and respected and awarded. I did like it, but I didn’t love it, and I guess I’ll have to explain myself here. The thing about L.A. Confidential, for me, is that it feels too familiar, too derivative. It’s pulling from these film noir classics and positioning itself as a stylish period piece updating the genre for a 90’s audience, and there’s value in that, but the path is well-trod and the movie didn’t bring anything especially novel to the proceedings. I thought the cast was great, the costumes were gorgeous, the script was good, and the setting was compelling, but the story itself is jumbled and the mystery isn’t very compelling. Certain aspects of the film were fascinating to me- the ultra-secret sex club with women made to look like famous stars, the Latina woman who lies to the cops so that her rapists will be punished, the obsession with image and celebrity prevalent in the police department- but as a whole it didn’t quite do it for me.

It’s still a pretty cool movie, mostly for the great cast. Kevin Spacey is the easy standout, all greasy self-obsession and twisted moral compass and pal’ing around with an even slimier Danny DeVito, but he’s also the one with the least amount of screen time. Guy Pearce is looking SHARP in his spectacles even if everyone keeps making him take them off (which is SO dumb, how the hell is he supposed to do detective work and, like, SHOOT?) and I liked how his character starts off all high-and-mighty but finds himself betraying his own conscience to uncover some darkness within himself. Of the three leads, Russell Crowe is the weakest, but that’s partially because his character is so boring and cookie-cutter. Like a dumb guy with a savior complex because his mom was abused, and that’s his entire personality. Ok. We spent the whole movie imagining he was a literal bear and it made him much more interesting. And funny. James Cromwell is good but he could not keep his accent down, like it oscillated between super-Irish to nonspecific American in different scenes and it was way distracting. Kim Basinger, so dominant on almost all the poster art, is a secondary character, but since she’s basically the only woman with more than one line of dialogue I guess they wanted to promote that anyone in the movie was female. She’s good though, shifting between hard-edged sex worker and kind-hearted romantic, and really pulling off the Veronica Lake look.

Anyway, this movie is ok but I’m not going to pretend like I found it special or even particularly memorable. It’s very well-made and oozes confidence, but it’s too reminiscent of other films for me to be wowed by it.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Obviously Chinatown. I mean, this movie definitely wanted to be the next Chinatown, right?