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Letterboxd Loose Ends 2016

Film reviews I’ve written on Letterboxd that are fewer than 100 words are collected here.

Carol

As successfully as any film I can recall, Carol captures the desperation that accompanies falling in love, and its fuzzy 16 mm rendering gives it the feel of a memory whose potency is undiminished by distance.

Boy & the World

Animated films aimed at broad audiences rarely take real advantage of the medium’s expressive potential, opting instead for one or another flavor of mannered representationalism. Boy & the World is a delightful exception, channeling the magical realism of a child’s naïve perspective to create a singularly vibrant, rhythmic aesthetic. Both a polemic and an affirmation, the film is occasionally heavy-handed with its politics, but not enough to undermine its core exploration of a generational spectrum of triumphs, mundanities, tragedies, and the resilience of creativity and community.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Exhaustive and exhausting, Electric Boogaloo’s overview of Cannon Films’ raucous history covers dozens of the production company’s provocative movies with blinding speed. Given that its subject at its peak averaged nearly one film produced per week, the pace is appropriate, and the clips and talking heads all whiz by so fast that reflection yields little more than an admittedly mesmerizing blur of explosions and boobs. Enough sunk in to convince me to revisit Cannon’s catalog, whose pulpy trailers and VHS covers made an indelible impression on my youth.

Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas

I… don’t know what I was expecting.

The Reckless Moment

Suggested alternate title: The Thankless Domesticity.

Props must be given to The Reckless Moment for being one of the rare films of its era to plainly acknowledge the raw deal women get in society. Of course, the film also reinforces said raw deal by billing its chain-smoking heart and soul, Joan Bennett, beneath James Mason, who gives a weak performance to a weaker character. Along with Bennett and the cacophonous existence written for her, Burnett Guffey’s kinetic camerawork helps to elevate The Reckless Moment above your average noir, but only just barely.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Yuen Woo-ping is a great action choreographer. He is not a great director. Though Michelle Yeoh lends the proceedings gravity merely by showing up, this superfluous sequel is completely absent the poetry of the original.

The Hunting Ground

As with much of Kirby Dick’s work, The Hunting Ground isn’t necessarily a great documentary in the formal sense, but it is a powerful work of advocacy, equal parts devastating and inspiring.

Hush

In Hush, Kate Siegel gives a truly terrific performance as an isolated deaf woman targeted by a psychopath. However, said psychopath is just about the least menacing home invader to grace the silver screen since Home Alone. If you really need to see a disabled person being terrorized, your time would be better spent with Wait Until Dark.

Purple Rain

The offstage moments are flimsy. The onstage moments are unforgettable.

White God

Come on, Mundruczó, it can’t be that hard to get Baha Men on the phone these days.

The Fast and the Furious

I might have watched this sooner if I had known it was Zack Morris fanfiction.

What We Do in the Shadows

For a very silly mockumentary about vampire roommates, What We Do in the Shadows packs a lot of heart, even as said vampires are violently devouring the blood of their innocent victims. Their benign malevolence (and that of their werewolf nemeses) – bolstered by impressively committed special effects – is a rare and delightful alchemy, and one that generates a lot of laughs.

Deathgasm

Hesher gorehounds will enjoy Deathgasm’s gleeful synthesis of metal lore and maximal carnage, but its blood-soaked slapstick lacks the imagination of the Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson classics that inspired it.

House

House is the Japanese tween fever dream I never knew I needed to experience. Virtually every shot is highly stylized in a different way, each scene is more bonkers than the last, and there is very little sense to be made of any of it. It’s an exhausting but worthwhile investment.

Jaws

For the second feature of a 28-year-old filmmaker, Jaws is an incredibly assured effort, and still every bit as terrifying as it was 40 years ago.

Jaws 2

Jaws 2 may be the best of the superfluous Jaws sequels, but it’s arguably the most boring. In its attempt to maintain the setting and tone of the flawless original, it’s mostly an unremarkable retread that seems resignedly cognizant of its own disposability.

Jaws 3

Jaws 3 boasts the hokiest special effects of the entire series. Since those effects are apparently its reason for being (its original title was Jaws 3-D), and relatively little effort was exerted elsewhere in the production, this one is probably best viewed in 3-D with expectations kept low.

Jaws: The Revenge

In Jaws: The Revenge, Ellen Brody becomes convinced that the various, oversized sharks that have tormented her family over the last twelve years are somehow associated, or organized, or something. Whether Brody is wrong or right, there’s some fun potential in the concept. However, despite going so far as to hint that she may even have some kind of psychic connection with the shark du jour, Jaws: The Revenge doesn’t commit to its lunacy, and its conclusion is the least satisfying of the series.

Evil Eye

For the second time, I’ve failed to be mindful of which version of a Mario Bava film I’m watching, this time with Evil Eye, the apparently inferior English-language recut of The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Fool me twice, shame on me. Evil Eye’s sumptuous black and white cinematography is a joy to behold, but its murder mystery is muddled by clumsy tonal shifts and an overbearing score.

The Invitation

A group of estranged friends reunites at a dinner party hosted by Eden, who, since everyone last saw her, has joined a New Age cult with her new husband. As the evening wears on, Eden’s ex-husband, Will, grows increasingly paranoid that the cult means the group harm. Is he right, or is his judgement impaired by the overwhelming grief triggered by revisiting the house where his son died two years before? I was eager to take whichever outcome got The Invitation and its vapid band of bores out of my life faster.

Two Thousand Maniacs!

Every aspect of Two Thousand Maniacs! exhibits a bare minimum of competence, and yet it is oddly unnerving, perhaps owing to how exuberantly its Grand Guignol spirit hurdles the boundaries of its era.

The Mummy

The initial appearance of Boris Karloff’s mummy is properly arresting, but most of what follows is a snooze.

The Wolf Man

Lon Chaney Jr, who embodies few of the characteristics of the traditional leading man, creates a character so apparently charismatic that his love interest is unfazed to learn he is an unapologetic peeping tom. But the real star of the show here is the cinematography, whose myst and moonlight cloak the misadventures of Chaney’s otherwise fairly silly werewolf in artful dread.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

The gags fly fast and furious in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but not nearly enough of them land. Compared to the duo’s electric “Who’s on First?” routine, the humor here is stilted.

Cat People

If Hitchcock had a predilection for the supernatural, it might have looked something like Cat People. The suspense it creates in a few keys scenes – both in terms of their staging and the psychosexual premise that drives them – is among the boldest I’ve seen from 1940s-era horror.

Supernatural

Opening with a newspaper headline about a murderous orgy, I thought this pre-Code thriller might be a bit more scandalous. Luckily, what it lacks in shocks it makes up for in unintentional farce.

TerrorVision

Exquisitely overdone in every respect, and entirely a product – and rebuke – of its time. This was clearly a lot of fun to make, is in turn a lot of fun to watch, and its theme song will get stuck in your head for weeks.

The New York Ripper

Empty and ugly, The New York Ripper is content to have its inscrutable serial killer revel in the seediest corners of early-’80s NYC without the benefit of a remotely compelling narrative. It’s all cheap and no thrills, but I’ll give it some credit for being extremely skeevy, which I took to be its lone goal.

The Thing from Another World

Though it’s not the masterpiece that John Carpenter would make 30 years later (which is apparently more faithful to the source material), The Thing from Another World is smart and tightly wound. The titular Thing is scarier in the imagination than on the screen, but its appearances, wisely, are few and brief. Tension is instead generated mainly by the conflict over whether the Thing should be studied or destroyed, and these scenes – dense with the crosstalk and claustrophobia of an isolated crew in close quarters – are remarkably well-executed.