Dana’s Weekly Roundup!

Better late than never! Last week was brutally hot in NYC, so it was a perfect time to hide inside and watch a lot of movies.


Lost Souls: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (David Gregory, 2014): The only time I’ve seen the disastrous 90s Island of Dr. Moreau has been with a Rifftrax over it, but I honestly don’t think I’m missing much. This documentary of the failed attempt for Richard Stanley (Dust DevilHardware) to adapt Wells’ novel as faithfully, and gruesomely, as possible is a relatively simple film, but is interesting in its extensive interviews with Stanley himself, as well as the producers, executives, and actors (including Fairuza Balk, forever my 90s girlcrush). The moral of the story: don’t ever  make a movie with Val Kilmer. Oh, and Marlon Brando loved to fuck with people.


Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, 2015): Covered pretty throughly here, just thought this blog could need another picture from the film.


Faults (Riley Stearns, 2014): It’s hard for me to discuss how I felt about the film without going into some pretty heavy spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is wonderful, as always, as Claire, a young woman living in a cult named Faults, whose parents hire Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) to deprogram her. Roth is about as down-on-his-luck as a person can get, so even though he admittedly doesn’t give a shit about the job anymore, he’ll do it for the money. Of course, Claire, her parents, and the whole situation is not what it appears.

There’s a few minutes in the film – after Ansel falls under Claire’s spell, and wakes up tied to a chair, watching his old talk show tapes, while Claire and her “father” have sex in the periphery – that really grabbed me, that made me incredibly uneasy. The aftermath of this incident, where Ansel is unsure what is happening, unable to distinguish his broken reality from fantasy, is fascinating, as we watch Ansel try to parse what he’s seen and heard. However, after that, it goes pretty obvious – of course Claire is the leader of Faults, and her “parents” are in on it, and happy to die after helping brainwash Ansel. I wish we had a little more insight into why Claire did what she did – was she getting revenge for Ansel’s past “victims” (which she refers to a little bit), or was it just a trophy to get cult expert Ansel Roth into Faults? The movie doesn’t dig as deep as I’d like, so it’s a pretty boring ride most of the time for a few explosive moments.


Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (Toshiya Fujita, 1970): We recently bought the (amazing!) Stray Cat Rock box set released by Arrow Films (who I am incredibly excited are finally putting out discs in the US!) and decided to put in one at random. Darren and I are both huge Meiko Kaji fans, so we knew any of the films would scratch that itch; however, Wild Jumbo is….not what we were expecting, to put it lightly. Part delinquent teen shenanigans, part beach movie, and part heist movie, Wild Jumbo is about a small time teen gang on vacation, who decide to steal a lot of money from a church/cult (I likely could have used some cultural context on that part). Kaji isn’t the star, and doesn’t lead the gang – and, as a total shocker for Kaji fans, she smiles and laughs during the movie! This isn’t the scowling, badass Meiko Kaji we’re used to. It’s good! Pretty silly, not a pinky violence title, but worth seeing.

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Alyce Kills (Jay Lee, 2011): This one was a purely random Netflix pick, and I appreciate it for what it is. Alyce is dangerously in love with her best friend Caroll – Caroll had accused Alyce of Single White Female-ing her, but they’re over that now (sort of). After a night of heavy partying, Alyce and Caroll end up on the roof of Alyce’s building, and something happens, and Caroll falls off the roof to the street below. However, she’s not dead. As Alyce tries to come to terms with what she may (or may not) have done, it drives her completely over the edge, and soon she’s giving a sleazy drug dealer sexual favors for cocaine and seducing the men in Caroll’s life. Alyce’s downfall is creepy, and realistic at the same time as it is bombastic. The film reminds me quite a bit of BCMH favorite Starry Eyes – both feature young women at the end of their rope, swayed to extreme violence by the promise of being someone else.

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Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 2002): Another Netflix pick, this one I’ve been meaning to watch for ages. Sandrine, a bartender, and Nathalie, a stripper, decide to go into “business” together to improve their financial and social standings. Their plan is simple: attract rich, powerful men, and get them to marry them. It works remarkably well, for a while, until one of the women catches feelings and the whole plan unravels. What’s most interesting about the film to me is its progression; it starts as a 90s-style erotic thriller, and in the final half hour, becomes almost mythological in its storytelling. There’s hints of a trashier Robbe-Grillet aesthetic here, and there’s more going on there than a synopsis makes it seem.


Tom Stathes’ Cartoons on Film (Various): As part of their annual Animation Block Party, BAM in Brooklyn presented an hour-long program of ultra-rare, pre-code cartoon shorts. As with pre-code film, the shorts are on the edge between racy and explicit (except for one silent film, which was incredibly pornographic, shocking even a 2015 audience), and derive much of their humor from suggestive situations. Although some of the films were disappointingly (but predictably, for the era) racist/sexist/fatphobic, most were a delightful view into a lost art. The films included stories from Betty Boop (my favorite as a youngster), Bobby Bumps, and the first Felix the Cat short. It was a real pleasure to check out!


Casque d’Or (Jacques Becker, 1952): A lush black and white drama about a gangster’s moll who falls in love with another man, and the consequences of following one’s heart. Simone Signoret is gorgeous and really empathetic as Marie, who starts out with the terrible brute Roland – however, at a party, she meets ex-con Manda, a friend of one of the gang members. The fireworks are immediately apparent, but Marie has a hard time getting out of Roland’s grasp. A duel, accidental death, and escape from the city ensue, but it’s not enough to escape the past. A tragic tale of love, but especially of male hubris – if any of these men had chilled out, the situation could have been resolved reasonably!


Dana’s Weekly Roundup

It’s a frustrating thing to have so many ideas about things to write on (seriously, I have a very full Google Doc with things I hope to get to one day…) but not have the inspiration, or the energy to do it. To throw myself back into writing about film, here’s the first Dana’s Weekly Roundup, a quick digest of all the films I’ve watched in the past seven days!


To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942): It doesn’t seem possible, or at least wise, to ever make a romantic comedy-backstage drama-espionage thriller set in occupied Poland, not to mention making it in 1942. Leave it to Lubitsch to do it, and to make it a true masterpiece. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny star as Maria and Joseph Tura, the most famous actors in Poland, whose company is putting on a performance of Hamlet while the Nazi occupation begins. Ms. Tura becomes involved in the Polish resistance, roping in Mr. Tura through his own stubbornness, and a plot to bring down the Nazis in Poland comes down to the downtrodden troupe of actors. Of course, this being a Lubitsch film, there’s a frankly portrayed love triangle, as Maria is also in love with Polish airman Robert Stack. There are so many disparate parts to the film – the love triangle, the crosses and double-crosses of espionage, the broadly funny set pieces for Benny – that it would easily seem disjointed, but it’s Lubitsch’s expert eye, as well as the cast’s impeccable timing, that make the film a true masterwork. It’s hilarious, and touching, often at once, as well as bold and daring, especially considering its date. Very highly recommended!


The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) I could honestly just watch Lubitsch films all the time, so we followed up To Be and Not to Be with The Smiling Lieutenant – love triangles aside, they could not be more different films. The Smiling Lieutenant stars frequent Lubitsch collaborator Maurice Chevalier as the titular army man, who is in love with Claudette Colbert, the leader of a beerhall touring-all-women’s orchestra (!!!). Chevalier pitches woo left and right, and soon he misdirects his ardor to the Princess of Flausenhaum, a neurotic, repressed, delightful Miriam Hopkins.

This is pre-code Lubitsch in all his glory – the innuendos zing by at lightning speed, and there’s a complicated love triangle that ends with the two rivals becoming friends (of a sort) – Colbert sings a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to Hopkins to help her win over Chevalier once and for all. This is the thing I loved most about the film – the two women aren’t angry at each other over the lieutenant; instead, they’re both sad about the circumstances, but Colbert understands the die is cast against her and decides to non-bitterly help her “rival” instead. That’s so much more progressive than most romantic comedies that have come since.


Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) I’ve been interested to see Losing Ground since it was presented at Lincoln Center earlier this year – the rediscovery of the first film directed by a black American woman is something to celebrate! While I didn’t make it to the run at Lincoln Center, I’m glad I got the opportunity to check it out during BAM’s (excellent) Indie 80s series. Seret Scott is magnetizing as Sara, a philosophy professor researching religious ecstasy over the summer break, when she rents a house in upstate NY with her artist husband Victor (director Bill Gunn of Ganja & Hess fame). On the brink of his first real success as an artist, Victor declares he’s over abstraction and is ready to embrace nature, and beauty, particularly in the form of Celia, a resident of the small town they inhabit that summer. Through her marital crisis, Sara gets a lead role in a senior thesis film, where she lets her hair down (literally) and dances with an older, becaped gentleman.

The first half of the film is a little clunky – most of the dialogue is expository and didn’t seem right coming out of any of the characters’ mouths. As the film went on, however, the colors became more brilliant, the motion more fluid, and the emotions more believable. A scene by the pool at the very end of the film, and especially Sara’s long-gestating venting of her feelings towards her husband, almost made me want to stand up and applaud (and I generally hate things like that in the theater). While the 80s score really hobbles the emotion of the film, the acting and beautiful direction overcomes it by the end, and it’s a real lost gem of American cinema.