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 Devil, Hardware) 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.
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.
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!