Saturday, October 19, 2019

Movie Roundup 10/19/19 (Oculus, Too Funny to Fail, Annhilation, Joker, The Thing, Tigers are Not Afraid, Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh, The Seduction of Mimi)

Oculus (2014) directed by Mike Flanagan- This was my first Mike Flanagan movie, and it was way better than I expected. I picked it up from the bargain bin a couple years ago because I’m a mild fan of Dr. Who and Battlestar and Karen Gillen and Katee Sackoff are main characters in this. Sackhoff’s role takes place about 15 or so years before the main action. She is the mother of Gillen’s character, and the victim of abuse at the hands of her husband who is apparently possessed by a ghost who lives in a mirror. Gillen’s character is scarred by this, as is her brother. When the latter gets out of a psychiatric ward she has tracked down the mirror and coerces him into facing the ghost with her. The way the past and present begin to weave into each other and the grim ending are the main selling points here. This is a solid horror movie, atmospheric and extremely well constructed.  Recommended.

Too Funny To Fail (2017) directed by Josh Greenbaum- I didn’t see The Dana Carvey Show when it first came out, but a decade or so later I got the dvds and thought they were hilarious; particularly Waiters Who Are Nauseated by Food (featuring Carell and Colbert many years before they were famous), Germans Who Say Nice Things and Grandma the Clown (maybe the bleakest sketch I’ve ever laughed at). This is a decent documentary about the creation of the show. There is one scene, when the characters are reacting to an advertisement for Home Improvement, their lead in, that is as funny as anything in the show. These are two of the most mismatched shows imaginable, and the reaction of the interviewees is priceless. Recommended if you liked the show.

Annihilation (2018) directed by Alex Garland - This is probably still my favorite movie of 2018. It’s based on a novel by one of my favorite authors, Jeff Vandermeer. The mysterious Area X is covered by something called “the Shimmer” of unknown origin that is slowly expanding. All teams that have gone in have disappeared never to return, save one soldier, the husband of Natalie Portman’s character. She joins an all female team of scientists and security personnel who go into the space. This is scific horror at its best. Just beautiful and disturbing. The ending is reminiscent of 2001 or Solaris. This is a great weird tale, and I will be watching it many more times. Canon.

Joker (2019) directed by Todd Phillips- I was very mixed on this. Despite my attempts to avoid it, I heard a lot of chatter about it beforehand (mostly in bad faith from people who hadn’t seen it yet). As I watched it, I couldn’t shake the discourse. I’m looking forward to seeing it a year or two from now with some distance. As is, I can say that Phoenix is very good (no surprise there), though I still prefer Ledger’s performance. There are some really good moments; I particularly liked the scenes with De Niro. It seems to be aimed both at the types of angry loners who write manifestos and the eat the rich crowd. I think it wants to portray society as it is, but the message is muddled. I’m not much for message movies, but this seems to be trying to send one. It seems unsure of what that message actually is. There are a couple of fakeouts in which scenes are discovered to be his hallucinations, which makes the ending of the film ambiguous in an annoying rather than thought provoking way. Right now I’m hovering between Pass and Recommended, but I’m mostly going to withhold judgement for a year or so.

The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter- I had seen this several times, but never on the big screen before. This is a horror masterpiece that manages to be both creeping terror and a gorefest. Seeing it on the big screen was a great experience. Canon.

Tigers are Not Afraid (2017) directed by Issa L√≥pez- This is a beautiful and gut wrenching movie in the tradition of Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Devil’s Backbone. A group of orphans in Mexico have to figure out how to live on the streets as they run from ghosts and the vicious gang that murdered their parents. It’s a toss-up which is more frightening. The balance between terror and pathos is perfect, with periodic moments of joy. This is definitely worth tracking down. Highly Recommended.

Gary Gulman: The Great Depresh: I really like comedians who talk openly about their depression and anxiety (Chris Gethard and Maria Bamford are masters of this). I’ve always thought Gulman was a master craftsman, and in this special he applies that craft to hellish depression he went through over the past few years. I’m glad he’s still around, and I’m grateful that he chronicled this here. All that makes it sound like it isn’t funny, but it is. Highly Recommended.

The Seduction of Mimi (1972) directed by Lina Wertmuller- For the first 30 minutes or so of this, I thought they were framing Mimi as a Being There or Forrest Gump type witness to history type character. I was wrong about that. Rather, it is a searing portrait of a fragile male ego. From the internal context of the film, it is also a satire on Italian society of the time. I don't know enough about Italy during the period to speak to how accurate that aspect is, though I'm willing to grant that business, crime and church had significant overlap. What I did recognize as a truth was a guy feigning an ideology to meet women; you see this a lot in the church as well. In the end, Mimi is a completely unsupportable character, but the film is largely an indictment of him, and by extension, Italian society (though, as I said, I don't have the context to parse that critique).
The film is beautifully shot, especially the foggy atmosphere of the first 30 minutes. This was my first Wertmuller and will definitely not be my last. Recommended.


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